ANSES recommends pursuing efforts to improve ambient air quality
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News of 23/05/2017
Knowledge of the health and environmental effects of pollution of ambient air by chemicals has been well established for some years now. Since 1996, the Member States of the European Union have been required to implement measures for monitoring, assessing and controlling ambient air quality for different chemical pollutants. France already has regulatory values (standards) for several air pollutants. ANSES's expertise was nevertheless called upon with a view to obtaining its opinion on a potential change in ambient air quality standards for fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ozone (O3). In the opinion it is publishing today, ANSES insists on the importance of pursuing efforts to implement long-term public policies in favour of improving air quality, which remains a major public health challenge. It also issues a series of recommendations regarding the potential change in standards for each of the pollutants targeted by its expert appraisal.
The description "ambient air quality standards" refers to the values used in application of the French regulations for several air pollutants and different time periods. These standards result from the transposition of several European directives that have been adopted since 1996, or from specific French standards.
The Directorate General for Health and the Directorate General for Energy and the Climate made a formal request to the Agency to conduct an expert appraisal of the ambient air quality standards for fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ozone (O3), to ensure that these standards best meet the needs for protection of public health.
Agency findings and recommendations
Over recent years, various studies have provided new evidence of the harmful effects of ambient air pollutants on human health, associated with short- or long-term exposure. The available data on the health effects and the health impact of air pollution confirm that it remains a major public health concern. ANSES therefore stresses above all the importance of pursuing efforts to implement long-term public policies in favour of improving air quality, to protect public health.
For the pollutants covered by the expert appraisal (PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2 and O3), ANSES recommends:
- Considering the adoption of more protective population exposure limits than the current values for fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), an ambition that will need to be proposed at European Commission level, since these standards result from the transposition of the European regulations. ANSES stresses that any reduction in the air concentration levels of PM10 and PM2.5 will lead to a health benefit.
- Proposing a standard that aims to prevent the short-term effects of PM2.5. An average daily limit value of 50 µm-3 is proposed for PM10. Such a standard should be applied to PM2.5, on which there is now a great deal of new knowledge on the health effects.
- Maintaining the information and alert thresholds, given the short-term health effects for the pollutants NO2, SO2, O3 and PM10, and the relevance of these thresholds to the vulnerable population groups identified.
- Considering simplifying the French regulations with respect to air quality standards:
- it is true that the public know little about the air quality objectives currently in force, which also receive little attention in institutional communications. Making reference to the WHO guideline values could be considered among the long-term objectives to be achieved.
- the alert thresholds for ozone of 300 and 360 µg.m-3 could be abolished and only the 240 µg.m-3 threshold retained.
- Carrying out further work to assess the effectiveness of public action in combating air pollution and to identify mechanisms for more effectively mobilising policymakers and the general public.
- Investigating a new means of daily communication, able to describe the air quality data for the general public in relation to the health issues.