Clean air in Europe's cities – the PEOPLE perspective

December 7, 2005

Brussels, 06 Dec 2005

Six European cities were the subject of an EU-funded comparative study, called PEOPLE, which assessed how much air pollution their citizens are exposed to. Individuals were monitored – both indoors and out – going about their daily lives, while data was collected on the cities' overall environmental pollution levels. Analysing this data led to some valuable conclusions, which were presented at the recent CER 2005 event.

Foremost among the conclusions to be drawn from the PEOPLE project is that individual lifestyle affects the level of exposure to air pollution. The six-city study (Brussels, Bucharest, Dublin, Lisbon, Ljubljana, Madrid) also identified a number of so-called 'pollution hotspots' and micro-environments, such as in bars and taxis, where higher exposure could occur.

The PEOPLE (Population Exposure to Air Pollutants in Europe) project, running from 2002 to 2005, was coordinated by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre Directorate-General (JRC DG). Its aims included assessing human exposure to particulates in the air – initially focusing on benzene emissions from transport and smoking – and comparing the findings between cities.

The information collected should support local, national and European decision-making as well as improve public awareness of air quality – and how it is affected by personal behaviour, such as smoking and choice of transport.

Speaking to the press at the Communicating European Research (CER) 2005 event in November, the JRC DG's Pascual Pérez Ballesta outlined the planning steps and approach taken during the monitoring, and how the people in the sample were screened. Some key results and conclusions were presented alongside graphs and tables comparing the cities involved.

Smokers and commuters

With a one-day 'snapshot' of collected data – both from the individuals being monitored and the environmental pollution levels – the researchers were able to develop annual average values. Comparisons were made between smokers and non-smokers and between modes of transport. Indoor and outdoor locations for environmental monitoring were carefully selected, including schools, public offices, shops, cafés, bars, restaurants and taxis.

Dubliners who don't smoke and commute to work recorded the lowest annual exposure levels to benzene, while Bucharest's population measured the highest. In Brussels, taxis had by far the highest ratio of benzene to background air norms. The air in Bucharest shops was quite poor, and bars in both Brussels and Madrid had high benzene ratios.

More broadly, the JRC's Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) is investigating a range of particles and air pollutants, including emissions from engines and vehicles, some of which are not yet regulated, such as nanoparticles and toxic compounds attached to particles. Work also continues on fuel types, blends and additives of the future; and emissions from other car systems, such as seat heating.

Special attention is being given to the emission of dioxins, furans and PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) from stoves and small heating systems; research which is proving especially important in the new Member States. The DG also runs a monitoring station for all types of air pollution in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Further information

DG Research
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