France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain or Bosnia-Herzegovina…. All these countries, whether big or small, are being threatened with the same problem: air pollution.
According to the World Health Organisation, this is now the environmental factor causing the greatest concern for our health. The European Environment Agency states that around 90% of the urban population in Europe is exposed to pollutants which are considered to be harmful.
“This hike in pollution is partly due to the increased emissions caused by more heating being used to combat cooler temperatures,” explains weather forecaster Lionel Guiseppin. “Also, other contributing sources of pollution are traffic and manufacturing. These factors combine to create an accumulation of pollution. “
The European Union is trying to find solutions to this dangerous threat. A directive governing national emissions levels has been issued (the PEN directive) and the EU has also set limits, for the first time, on the ambient concentrations of fine particles.
On a national scale, each member state has taken emergency measures to limit the harmful effects.
Many European towns, especially in France, have reduced the speed limit in built up areas from 50 to 30 km per hour. The aim is to encourage the use of bicycles. The introduction of the ruling concerning alternate number plates, although quite efficient, has caused problems for public transport.
“I think it’s a good thing but at the same time it is a bit of a pain,” says French commuter Laurice Harrow. “As it’s free today, people are no longer using their cars but the trains are full and we no longer have any space, it’s a real pain.”
The second solution offered by Public Authorities is to ban vehicles with a high level of pollution. In Germany, ignoring this directive can lead to a fine of up to 40 euros while in Sweden, drivers may have to pay 113 euros. In London, the fines are higher still and can reach approximately 1200 euros for heavy goods vehicles.
Whilst waiting for the benefits of these solutions to take effect, some citizens have already taken measures. Anti-pollution masks are slowly but surely infiltrating the large European towns.