Increase in pollutants causes drop in Flemish air quality
The air quality in Flanders has deteriorated again. COVID measures sharply reduced pollutant concentrations in 2020, but they have since gone up again. This was reported by the Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) in a press release on Thursday.
Annual measurements by VMM show that there was an increase in concentrations for almost all pollutants in 2021 compared to 2020. These had fallen sharply because of COVID-19 measures, when emissions from traffic and some industries were curbed. Despite the increase, air quality remains better than in 2019.
The big culprits are particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, black carbon, benzo(a)pyrene and carbon monoxide. According to the VMM, the cause of the increase almost certainly lies in the revival of the economy, traffic and possibly increased wood burning. New calculations indicate that wood combustion in Flanders causes more particulate matter than exhaust emissions from road traffic.
Particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ozone in particular pose the greatest health risk. In 2021, there were about 4,200 premature deaths from fine dust, about 1,300 from ozone and about 1,100 from nitrogen dioxide in Belgium. Because these substances can also impact the body simultaneously, there is overlap between the groups.
Based on World Health Organisation (WHO) advisory values, all Flemish citizens live in places with too much fine dust and 98 percent live in places with too much nitrogen dioxide. According to European guidelines, Flanders does meet the limit and target values almost everywhere. These are legally binding.
The measures in the Flemish Air Policy Plan should halve the health impact in the medium term (2030) and respect the WHO advisory values in the long term (2050). In the press release, VMM admits that Flemish measures alone may not be enough to achieve these objectives and that measures at European and international level are also necessary.
© BELGA PHOTO JASPER JACOBS