When Europeans talk about air pollution, they often think of India or China, but rarely consider their own continent to be at risk. And while levels of air pollution have decreased throughout Europe over the past decades, a new study by Austrian scientists concludes that smog is far from being defeated on the continent.
Scientists with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis predict that by 2030, many European cities will be faced with air pollution levels far above limits set by the World Health Organization and the European Union. Whereas many Europeans already live in polluted areas today, conditions will worsen in certain cities if no significant measures are taken to stop the deterioration.
"We show the potential and the need for further emission controls to achieve safe levels of air quality – current legislation will not do the job," researcher Gregor Kiesewetter, who led the study, said on the Web site of his institute. "Air pollution has a major impact on human health, contributing to lung and heart disease," the scientists warned.
What is surprising is that the cities which will suffer most are not necessarily the biggest ones. London, for instance, is expected to have harmless levels of pollution, despite its current smog, which has led to an E.U. lawsuit against Britain for the country's failure to reduce pollution levels. "By 2030, the introduction of diesel particle filters will have diminished the current impact from local traffic sources on air quality in some European cities," Kiesewetter told The Washington Post.
An alarming presence of dangerous microparticles is primarily predicted for eastern Europe. In the proximity of Krakow, one of Poland's oldest cities, smog will be particularly widespread by 2030, according to the Austrian researchers. Warsaw and Sofia are also predicted to have alarming levels of microparticles because these cities are expected to continue to burn solid fuels such as wood or coal to generate heat.
In western and northern Europe, the cities hardest hit will include the industrial Spanish port of Gijon, Sweden's capital, Stockholm, southern Germany's Stuttgart, northern Italy's Milan and Turin, and the French capital.
Smog in Paris could have devastating consequences: As one of Europe's largest cities, air pollution would potentially endanger more than 12 million people in the French capital and its suburbs.
Such high levels of air pollution would not come as a total surprise to most Parisians, though. On Mar. 17, 2014, Paris was plagued by thick smog that was even worse than the one in Beijing that day. Back then, authorities responded with an unprecedented measure — banning half of all cars and making public transport free for one week.
In January, the mayor of Paris announced that polluting trucks and buses would no longer be allowed to enter the city, starting in July. It's only the latest measure taken to tackle the Parisian air pollution problem: In December, for instance, the city decided to prohibit the use of open fireplaces.
The air pollution problem of Paris was widely reported internationally and has been used to mock the city, but as the Austrian study shows, other cities are equally at risk.
Some consider the recent Parisian measures to be exaggerated, but supporters of a tough anti-smog stance have a strong counter-argument: Outdoor air pollution is blamed for the deaths of at least 100,000 and, according to some estimates, even as many as 400,000 Europeans each year.
Most of these deaths could easily be prevented, according to the Austrian researchers. "If the most efficient air pollution control technologies that are currently available were implemented across Europe, 99 percent of European monitoring stations would see air pollution levels reduced below E.U. limits by 2030," they concluded.