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Brussels sees major improvement in air quality

07:28 10/07/2024

Air quality in Brussels has markedly improved over the past 10 years, according to a new report from Brussels Environment, but work remains to be done in order to adequately protect the health of residents in the capital.

“Current air quality in the Brussels region and its clear improvement over the past 10 years bear witness to the effectiveness of the measures put in place to reduce emissions, as well as to technological progress,” Brussels Environment said.

“However, there is still work to be done to comply with the future European limit values in 2030, and even more so with the values recommended by the World Health Organisation.”

In the capital, most of the pollution comes from road traffic. To combat this problem, the region introduced a Low Emissions Zone in 2018.

The study measured air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2), fine particles (PM10 and PM2.5), ozone (O3) carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and black carbon (BC).

Annual concentrations of NO2 and PM10 and PM2.5 have decreased by about 10% between 2022 and 2023.

For ozone, the trend observed in Europe is a decrease in ozone peaks but a stagnation or increase in background concentrations. In Brussels, the target value set by Europe was respected in 2023, but the daily value recommended by the WHO was not respected at any station in the Brussels region.

With regard to SO2 and CO, the values imposed by the directive have largely been respected for 10 years in the capital. When it comes to BC, concentrations have fallen sharply in recent years, but this pollutant is not regulated by Europe and the WHO does not provide recommended values.

A telemetric network of 11 stations spread across the region measures the presence of these air pollutants in real time. Two other stations, managed by a private firm, complete the region’s system as part of the implementation of an "air quality observatory".

“Air pollution has major adverse effects on the health of the people of Brussels,” Brussels Environment said.

“Exposure to pollutants, particularly fine particles and nitrogen dioxide, is responsible for premature deaths, illnesses (respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and asthma) and significant economic costs to society (medication, hospitalisation, absenteeism from work).”

Citing the latest report from the European Environment Agency, Brussels Environment said exposure to PM2.5, NO2 and O3 alone caused 5,330 premature deaths in Belgium in 2020.

“If the European values are respected at this stage, the challenge is to reach the new European values for 2030, as well as the values recommended by the WHO,” the agency noted.

“Indeed, it can be seen that the latter are (largely) exceeded for nitrogen dioxide, fine particles (in particular PM2.5) and ozone in 2023.

"Compliance with the new values recommended by the WHO will therefore require further reductions in emissions at local level, particularly in the transport sector, but also drastic reductions at European and even hemispheric level."

Written by Helen Lyons