The findings were presented in an EU-wide emission inventory report that aggregates data on levels of air pollutants in the 27 member states from 1990 to 2007. The report found that the biggest reductions were recorded for sulphur oxides (SOx), acidifying pollutants whose levels were down 72% from 1990. The three main pollutants which cause ground-level ozone to form in the atmosphere – nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and carbon monoxide (CO) – were also down.
Emissions of primary particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), which causes health problems like asthma and lung cancer, were also down by around 12% compared to 2000, when levels of these pollutants were first reported by EU member states.
Housing sector a growing problem
But the report also noted that energy use by households is becoming an increasingly important contributor to bad air quality across the EU 27. The residential sector was identified as a key source of six pollutants, making its overall impact on air quality the largest.
Road transport also got a poor grade as heavy duty vehicles make up the biggest source of NOx, while passenger cars rank among the top six emitters of several pollutants.
The power sector, however, got a better assessment. It has been reducing its emissions continuously via better abatement equipment, energy efficiency measures and cleaner fuels, but remains a major source of the pollutants which cause acid rain.
The largest member states were generally the biggest sources of pollution, with France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK making up most of the EU 27's emissions in 2007, the report shows.
Problems with compliance
Several member states have been struggling to meet the bloc's air quality standards.
In January, the European Commission launched infringement proceedings against ten member states that had failed to meet the standards for airborne particles called PM 10 specified in the 2008 Air Quality Directive. Several member states have notified extensions for meeting their compliance deadlines.
The EU hopes that climate legislation agreed last December will contribute towards better air quality. As energy efficiency improvements and greater use of renewable energy reduce the need for energy generated from fossil fuels, air pollution should be reduced as well.