The amounts of air pollutants remain dangerously high in many parts of Europe, according to an annual report by the European Environment Agency (EEA). However, in Finland and the other Nordic Countries, levels of air pollutants are the lowest in Continental Europe.
Photo: Eija Vallinheimo
The EEA estimates that the biggest risk to Europeans is caused by fine particles (PM2.5), especially in urban areas. Nearly one in three city dwellers in the EU live in areas where the fine particle content exceeds the limit set by the EU for protecting people's health. According to follow-up information from municipalities which was compiled by the Finnish Meteorological Institute, this limit was not exceeded anywhere in Finland in 2012. At all measuring sites, levels of fine particles fell below even the significantly more stringent recommendation set by the World Health Organisation. Only a tenth of Europe's urban population can enjoy such clean air.
In Finland 2012 was quite an ordinary year for air quality, and no significant extensive episodes of long-range transport occurred.
Fine particles are harmful to people, because their microscopic size means that they can reach the lungs through the air that is breathed, and go all the way into the bloodstream, causing respiratory difficulties, and other problems, including premature death among those with respiratory and heart disease.
Even slightly larger particles can get into the body through the air, but they usually stop in the upper part of the respiratory tract. Consequently, they are not considered to be quite as harmful to human health. The street dust that bothers city dwellers in Finland especially in the spring involves larger particles (particulate matter, PM10). In the spring, during the worst period of street dust, significantly high PM10 levels can be measured for a period of a few weeks. However, this period of elevated dust levels is so brief that on the annual level, the limits even for coarse particles are exceeded in Finland only in isolated exceptional cases.
After particles, ozone in the lower atmosphere is considered the most harmful air pollutant. At the EU level about 20% of the urban population are exposed to levels that exceeded the desired value. Ozone is formed at the level of the earth's surface when other pollutants react to sunlight. In Finland and the other Nordic Countries, the climate is not conducive to the formation of ozone, and the current desired value is not exceeded. However, in the long term, the current ozone situation is not good enough, because of upcoming standards for ozone, worse levels are sometimes exceeded in Finland as well.
High nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels are a problem for large city centre areas. In the EU about 13 % of the entire urban population are exposed to harmful levels of NO2. In Finland, levels of NO2 that exceed the set limits occur only in low-lying streets with heavy traffic in the centre of Helsinki. Helsinki is also making efforts to reduce NO2 levels to below the maximums set by the beginning of 2015.
Owing to local emissions by industry, the target level for arsenic in the air was exceeded in 2012 in Kaleva in Harjavalta, and those of benzopyrene were exceeded in Lapaluoto in Raahe. According to the estimates, about 200 people were exposed to the elevated levels in Harjavalta in 2012, and in Raahe, about 1500 people were exposed. The levels would need to be bought down to below the target level in the coming year.
The Finnish Meteorological Institute is commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment to collect follow-up information on Finnish air quality annually from municipalities and industry. The data from the measurements is used to calculate the statistics linked with the EU's monitoring of limits, and the information is submitted to the European Commission. Information on the actual measurements is sent to the European Environment Agency, which produces reviews and statistics covering all of Europe.
Senior Research Scientist Pia Anttila, tel. + 358 50 368 6420 firstname.lastname@example.org
Researcher Mika Vestenius tel. +358 50 524 1975 email@example.com
EEA report: Air quality in Europe – 2013 report: http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/air-quality-in-europe-2013
EEA news release: http://www.eea.europa.eu/media/newsreleases/air-pollution-still-causing-harm
Air quality portal (in Finnish) http://www.ilmanlaatu.fi/tarkistetut_tulokset/vuositilastot/2012/vuosi_2012.php