Commission applies new technology in fight against urban air pollution

February 4, 2003

Brussels, 03 Feb 2003

The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) has launched a joint pilot study to measure urban air pollution in Milan in January and February 2003.

The initiative, in cooperation with regional Italian environmental protection agency ARPA, seeks to determine the source of harmful particulate matter (PM) pollutants, and is the first project to use the JRC's new single particle analysis and sizing system (SPASS).

'Air pollution in our cities requires urgent action. We need more environmental research,' said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. 'We need to detect and measure air pollution, and closely monitor changes in pollution patterns.'

The new approach being applied in the study will provide information about individual particles, including their potential origin, in order to help local and national authorities within the EU tackle air pollution.

The major sources of PM pollution in the atmosphere are traffic, domestic heating and industry. Different sources result in different classes of particulate matter. Emissions from traffic typically result in particles composed of organic matter and nitrates, domestic heating and industrial activities in sulphates, and agriculture in ammonium.

SPASS is able to identify and analyse each particle, then use specifically developed statistical programs to quantify each source's contribution to the concentration of particulate matter in the atmosphere.

By characterising particles at source, for example from car exhausts and factory chimneys, and then in the atmosphere, the contribution of each type of pollution to overall atmospheric PM levels can be assessed.

Concentrations of such particulate matter often exceed standards agreed by the European Commission, and studies recently carried out by the JRC suggest that PM pollution levels in northern Italy are among the highest in Europe.

High levels of particulate matter in the atmosphere are associated with pulmonary and cardiovascular complaints. Trying to counter such pollution has led some authorities to implement costly initiatives such as banning traffic in cities during certain periods of the day or week.

It is hoped that the initiative will greatly increase scientific knowledge about the source of harmful air pollutants and enable more cost-effective control measures, as defined in the Commission's clean air for Europe (CAFÉ) programme.

As Commissioner Busquin explained: 'The aim is to help national and regional authorities better analyse the problem, identify health hazards related to dangerous substances in the air, and devise and implement appropriate strategies to counter this phenomenon in a cost effective way.'

For further information, please consult the following web addresses:

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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