The Malta Independent 24 September 2018, Monday

TMID Editorial: Air pollution - Should we just rely on statistics?

Friday, 14 September 2018, 14:23 Last update: about 9 days ago

The European Court of Auditors this week said that much more needs to be done to protect citizens from air pollution, adding that EU action has so far not delivered its expected impact.

Air pollution causes some 400,000 premature deaths every year across the EU, costing taxpayers billions on healthcare. It is no joke.

The Court of Auditors warned that people in urban areas (practically all of Malta is an urban area) are particularly exposed.

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"Air pollution is the biggest environmental risk to health in the European Union," said Janusz Wojciechowski, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. "In recent decades, EU policies have contributed to emission reductions, but air quality has not improved at the same rate and there are still considerable impacts on public health."

The Court of Auditors also remarked that EU air quality standards were set almost 20 years ago.

While emissions of air pollutants have been decreasing, most Member States still do not comply with the EU's air quality standards and are not taking enough effective action to improve air quality, it said, while also raising questions about the effectiveness of air quality monitoring.

A few months ago, the Environment and Resources Authority had said that its monitoring stations have never exceeded the limits set by national and EU legislation- the same legislation and limits that are now being questioned by the European Court of Auditors.

The authority had also said that, in size and population density, Malta compares more to a major city within Europe than to a whole European state with expanses of open spaces.

That is precisely our problem, and precisely why, as a country that is practically one large city, we should be more mindful of these statistics and take the necessary measures to ensure that our citizens are not constantly breathing in dangerous fumes.

Besides, statements issued by the authorities alone are not enough to put our minds at rest. The numbers may say one thing, but the reality on the ground feels a whole lot different.

We all witness, on a daily basis, cars, vans and trucks belching out huge clouds of black smoke from their exhaust systems. You just have to roll up your car windows when stuck in rush hour traffic. The large number of vehicles that emit black acrid smoke makes one wonder whether the current VRT tests and emissions standards, established years ago, have really made any difference.

 All of us witness the dust clouds coming out from the never ending construction sites.  And those of us who live in the areas of Zebbug and Qormi are well aware of the constant stream of trucks, filled to the brim with brick, stone and gravel, driving to and from the quarries that have recently been reopened to receive the growing stream of construction waste.

Recently, Birdlife Malta also shed some light on the pollution caused by ships - cruise ships in particular - which was something we did not really think about before.

When considering all these examples, the ERA statement is not so reassuring anymore. This is not just about numbers but about what we experience in our daily lives.

The authorities must really step up their game when it comes to combating air pollution. Relying on statistics and electronic readings alone is just not enough.

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