The air we breathe

Good and not so good news on the state of global air quality

What is the state of our air? A number of studies and investigations are looking at air quality trends and the impact the state of air quality has on our well-being. Put simply, although air pollution is alarming in many places, there are also reasons for optimism.

Few cities with good air quality

Air quality can be measured quite objectively wherever the air is thick and a fresh breeze is blowing. The European Environment Agency (EEA) has set up a long-term monitoring program for this purpose, recording fine particulate matter (PM2,5) levels at more than 400 locations.

An online dashboard shows the average load over the last two years. Cities whose measuring stations are located exclusively at traffic stations are grayed out. Monitoring reveals that only eleven cities in Europe meet the clean air requirements formulated by the WHO. Most of them are located in rather sparsely populated regions and are under the influence of sea air. Every other city needs to catch up. Fortunately, however, only three cities on average exceed the critical PM2,5 limit of 25 µg/m3 defined by the EU.

Airborne pollutants can cause cancer

Polluted air can not only lead to asthma and other respiratory diseases; it can also cause cancer. A study by the EEA reveals that around ten percent of diagnosed cancers are attributable to pollutants. The causes can include contact with chemicals, the effects of passive smoking, but also quite explicitly breathing in polluted air over long periods. Lung cancer is a particularly common and often fatal consequence. In future, air and water pollution will be significantly reduced under the “Zero Pollution Action Plan”, which aims to permanently reduce the impact on health.

“We see the impact pollution in our environment has on the health and quality of life of European citizens and that is why preventing pollution is so crucial to our well-being.”
– Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director

Air slowly becoming cleaner

Only three percent of the world’s population lives with good air.

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Fine dust and contaminants are found in particularly high levels in the air of emerging countries. The reasons for this are wide ranging and include soot pollution from open fires in private household, and high volumes of traffic, as well as contaminant gases and fine dusts from industry that are released as a result of inadequate exhaust air filtration. This often occurs in densely populated regions such as South Asia, India, and China. A very large number of people suffer from poor air quality here. The good news is that the air is improving, especially in China. Since 2013, average fine dust levels have been falling steadily. They have been reduced by more than a third over the last ten years. Other countries will probably follow suit soon.


There is still a lot to be done and part of the solution is the widespread use of efficient filtration solutions. Such solutions can reduce fine dust in industry and provide personal protection inside vehicles.