EEA: EU ecosystems still damaged by air pollution

Air pollution, level 9. London, April 2014. [David Holt/Flickr]

Airborne emissions still pose a threat to the EU’s plant and animal life but policies have contributed to reducing pollution over the past few decades, according to the European Environment Agency.

The EU continues to emit unsustainable levels of nitrogen, one of the main causes of eutrophication, which can damage ecosystems by creating more favourable conditions for certain plants. An example of eutrophication is algal bloom.

However, about 60% of EU ecosystems today are affected by eutrophication, compared to the peak of 80% in 1990, according to the EEA report, published yesterday (30 June).

In 2012, 11 EU countries exceeded the limits set out in the Gothenburg Protocol limits for the pollutants causing eutrophication, such as nitrogen oxides and ammonia.

Hans Bruyninckx, the EEA’s executive director, said: “Although air pollution does not cause as much harm as it once did, we are still struggling to protect sensitive ecosystems from harmful effects such as eutrophication”, adding, “It is particularly striking that the problem appears to be just as bad in Europe’s protected natural areas.”

The EU also continues to emit Sulphur dioxide (Sox), one of the main causes of acidification, and acid rain. Acid rain gained attention in the 1970s, for destroying forests and killing fish, such as brown trout and Atlantic Salmon.

However, the level of SOx emissions fell by 84% between 1990 and 2012, making it one of the EU’s environmental “success stories”, according to the EEA. Today around 5% of EU ecosystems are affected by acidification. In 1980, almost half of the EU’s most sensitive ecosystems were exposed to excess SOx.

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