Air pollution from agriculture: ammonia exceeds emission limits in 2015

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Source: European Environment Agency (EEA)

Ammonia (NH3) emissions in Europe have fallen since 1990, but not as much as emissions of other air pollutants tracked under an internationally agreed United Nations Convention. According to a European Environment Agency (EEA) report published today, ammonia emissions increased in 2015 and several European Union Member States as well as the EU as a whole exceeded their respective NH3 emission limits under the Convention.

The annual European Union emission inventory report 1990-2015 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) shows that NHemissions fell by 23 % between 1990 and 2015, but increased in the EU-28 between 2014 and 2015 by 1.8 %. Greece did not report any data for 2015. Ammonia emissions increased most in France, Germany and Spain. Four Parties to the Convention (Germany, Spain, Sweden and the EU) exceeded their NH3 ceilings in 2015.

The other main pollutants covered by the LRTAP Convention have dropped considerably since 1990, including the three air pollutants primarily responsible for the formation of ground-level ozone (O3). Carbon monoxide (CO), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) were reduced by 68%, 61 % and 56 % respectively.

Around 94 % of ammonia emissions in Europe stem from agriculture, mainly from activities such as manure storage, slurry spreading and the use of inorganic nitrogen fertilisers. Ammonia contributes to eutrophication — an oversupply of nitrogen — and acidification of ecosystems. It also forms particulate matter in the atmosphere which has adverse effects on human health.

Other key findings

  • Across the EU-28, sulphur oxides (SOx) emissions have fallen the most with an 89% reduction since 1990. This is a result of a combination of measures including a switch away from fuels with high sulphur content to low-sulphur fuels such as natural gas, flue-gas desulphurisation in industrial facilities and EU directives relating to the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels.
  • Emissions of primary particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5 have fallen by 24 % and 26 %, respectively since 2000, and black carbon (BC) by 40 %.
  • The EEA member countries Norway and Switzerland, are also parties to the LRTAP Convention . In 2015, Norway exceeded the NH3 ceiling. Switzerland complied with all its ceilings.
  • Emissions of lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd) and mercury (Hg), dioxins and furans, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have also dropped substantially since 1990, by about 67 % or more.

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