At the beginning of this week, all major media reported 300 000 premature deaths due to particulate matter pollution in 2019 within the EU (e.g., Spiegel or Süddeutsche Zeitung). This news refers to a communication of the European Environment Agency (EEA), which certifies in principle a positive development of air quality in Europe, but also points out how many premature deaths are due to increased fine dust pollution.
However, the actual core is that 50% of these deaths could have been avoided by complying with the new WHO guideline values. The following also applies to Germany: Of 53 800 premature deaths, 27 000 could have been avoided.
This means: In Germany, 27 000 relatives would not have been taken away from their families in 2019.
This raises the question of whether it is sufficient to document compliance with legal EU thresholds for air pollutants and thus comply with the regulations. Or whether the actual purpose of monitoring air quality must not be placed at the centre of the trade: to protect the lives and health of citizens.
What mayor wants to explain to a family that their father/grandfather/uncle, mother/aunt/cousin could still be alive, but that the city is deliberately limiting itself to fulfilling legal requirements and not striving to protect the health of its citizens to the best of its ability? And that the municipality waits until new laws are in place before taking action to save lives?
Of course, municipal action is complex and must take into account a wide variety of interests. It is, therefore, all the more important to use sound information for decision-making that is relevant in context, reliable and sustainably available. For air quality, this means that the more accurately the local situation can be mapped and temporal patterns can also be identified, the more targeted action can be taken to prevent or reduce air pollution and protect the health of citizens. This can only be done efficiently if an area-wide survey of air pollution values in a sufficiently granular time grid is available as a basis.
More information about thresholds / guiding values here