Air pollution caused by airborne particulate matter (PM) is a major environmental and health problem. To address this problem, the EU is implementing its Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution, adopting a directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (2008/50/EC). This directive lowers the limits for particulate matter in air. Such legislation, however, represents a significant compliance challenge for many areas across Europe, particularly urban and industrial areas. Countries with arid climates, such as those in southern Europe and the Mediterranean region, for example, are affected by a wide range of emission sources – such as industry, traffic and dust intrusions – as well as high radiation and photochemical conversion rates that significantly enhance particle levels in the air.
But mitigation strategies and air quality management can be improved. It is important not just to monitor ambient air pollutant concentrations, but also to better understand the reasons why PM limits are often exceeded in specific areas.
The overall goal of the AIRUSE project was to develop and demonstrate cost-effective measures for ensuring better air quality in urban areas. It aimed to identify the most effective mitigation measures for reducing PM levels to within acceptable limits and thus to contribute to meeting current and future EU targets for air quality. Specifically, the project aimed to:
The AIRUSE project achieved its main objectives, generating knowledge of the sources of PM and their relative impact. It employed advanced factor analysis modelling to quantify the contribution of a range of anthropogenic and natural sources to the PM concentration levels in five southern European cities – Athens, Barcelona, Florence, Milan and Porto. This analysis led to the drawing up of recommendations on how to lower concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5 in the air, which were sent to national authorities. The project findings are highly transferrable for urban areas in the Mediterranean basin. Their main findings can be summarised as follows:
In addition to the reduction of PM, adoption of AIRUSE measures also reduces road dust resuspension and biomass burning and industrial emissions. These reductions, however, are not immediately apparent, so measures must be adopted for a significant period of time before being quantified. One of the successes of the project was thus the creation of strong partnerships among authorities and other interested bodies in hot-spot areas across southern Europe.
In Barcelona, for example, the AIRUSE project formed the basis for the air quality plan that was drawn up by the department of the environment of the Catalan government. The plan adheres to the project recommendation that street cleaning should be carried out just before peak traffic times in order to optimise its impact and minimise disruption. Furthermore, AIRUSE methodology and protocols were used also to assess the impact of inhalable dust loadings on schools surrounding the site of a large uncontrolled fire at a tyre landfill site in Seseña (Toledo, Spain), on the request of the Castilla-La Mancha regional government. The project was thus a catalyst for public authorities to improve inventories of atmospheric pollutants to take into account those industrial activities not included under the Industrial Emissions Directive as well as PM2.5 and diffusive emissions. It also encouraged authorities to regulate biomass fuels, enforcing the use of ENPlus pellets and certified stoves, and banning the use of recycled wood as a domestic heating fuel.
Finally, the project could help improve the effectiveness of local, regional and national policies on drawing up air quality plans in accordance with the requirements of Directive 2008/50/EC and the WHO Guidelines on ambient PM for protection of human health.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).