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Europeans demand regulators take action on transport emissions

In 2020, 96 percent of Europe’s urban population was exposed to levels of fine particulate matter above the standard set by the World Health Organization. More than 300,000 deaths in Europe per year can be attributed to chronic exposure to fine particulate matter, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

It’s not surprising then, that feedback from Europeans is clear: they want ambitious regulation to tackle the ever-growing health and environmental impacts of fine particle pollution from transport.

A recent pan-European opinion poll conducted by OpinionWay for Tallano Technologies surveyed Europeans across five EU member countries (Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands) about their perception of transport-related air pollution, and the role and responsibility of public institutions in regulating the transport sector. The poll showed that Europeans expect regulatory action to be taken at the EU and local levels to tackle sources of air pollution, with 75 percent saying they would support regulation focused on fine particle emissions from transport.

The report showed that Europeans are highly concerned about air pollution and its health effects — 92 percent of Italians, 87 percent of Dutch people and 86 percent of Belgians all rated health and well-being as their primary concern. Outdoor air pollution was a big focus for those polled, with at least 80 percent reporting concerns about the risks associated with outdoor air quality, and nearly one in two French people (48 percent) personally experiencing, or witnessing relatives experiencing, discomfort or problems related to outdoor air pollution.

High concern, but a lack of information

The transport sector is key in the eyes of the European public, with more than 80 percent of respondents in all countries ranking transport and road traffic among the top three sectors responsible for outdoor air pollution — and more than a third ranking transport in first place.

There are disparities in public understanding, industry action and regulatory focus across the various pieces of the air-pollution puzzle. Exhaust emissions of private and public transport systems are often touted as one of the key concerns and areas for improvement. However, the impact of non-exhaust emissions like those from the braking systems of these cars, buses, vans, trains and lorries are often left out of the discussion, much to the detriment of Europe’s public health and environment. Indeed, this lack of understanding about the origins of transport-related pollution was reflected in the poll results, with less than half of respondents (40 percent) aware that both exhaust emissions and particulate emissions from brakes and tires contribute to transportation-related air pollution.

Putting the brakes on fine particle emissions

Exhaust pipe emissions only account for 20 percent of fine particle emissions from vehicles, and currently, it is only these emissions that are regulated in Europe. The remaining 80 percent of fine particle emissions come from the wearing down of brakes and tires. Due to the relative success of exhaust regulation, the proportion of particle emissions contributing to air pollution coming from non-exhaust sources has hugely increased and will continue to grow.

Brakes emit about six times more particles than the limit set for exhausts under the current Euro 6 standard. Half of these particles are released into the air, which poses a serious health risk; the toxic ultrafine particles which braking systems in cars and trains release can cause myriad health issues if inhaled, including respiratory problems and dementia. The other half are projected on to the ground, which causes environmental issues.

Non-exhaust emissions have been an overlooked issue in environmental policy. The European Commission is currently readying itself to release a new package on emission standards for cars, vans, lorries and buses, which is set to — at last — take these crucial emissions into account. According to Transport & Environment, Europe’s leading clean transport campaigning group, Euro 7 is to set legal limits for the nearly 100 million petrol and diesel cars to be sold in the EU after 2025. If non-exhaust emissions, particularly those that come from the braking systems, are left out of this new regulation, a whole new generation of vehicles would be welcomed onto European roads without any industry requirement to curb these toxic particles.

Solving the problem of non-exhaust particle emissions is not a question of a lack of solutions. In fact, up to 97 percent of non-exhaust particle emissions can be eliminated with a combination of technologies — all of which are readily available, affordable and implementable in the near-term. As with so many environmental and health issues, it is therefore crucial that regulators oblige manufacturers to implement measures.

The Euro 7 standard is due to be unveiled by the European Commission on October 12, 2022, and if it is to include stricter limits on fine particle emissions, it would have a huge impact in protecting European citizens’ health and the environment — a move that citizens clearly support.

With the desire from the public for information and action, and the regulation incoming, now is the time for policymakers, industry stakeholders and NGOs to pay attention to non-exhaust emissions and take the necessary steps to protect people, planet and the future.

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