New maps give Europeans close-up picture of air pollution from diffuse sources


Source: European Environment Agency (EEA)

New online maps published today by the European Commission and the European Environment Agency, in close cooperation with the Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) of the Joint Research Centre, allow citizens to pinpoint the main diffuse sources of air pollution, such as transport and aviation. The new set of 32 maps shows where certain pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter are released. It complements existing data on emissions from individual industrial plants from the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR). The Europe-wide register aims to help Europeans actively engage in decisions affecting the environment.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: “These maps give Europeans important information about the sources of air pollution. It shows a genuine commitment to share information with citizens and increase their understanding of where pollution in their neighbourhood is coming from.'

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, added: “Air pollution is a serious health threat, especially to risk-prone groups such as children and people with respiratory diseases. By informing citizens about air pollution from transport, households and other sources where they live, these maps empower them to take action and urge authorities to make improvements.”

The E-PRTR, launched in 2009 to improve access to environmental information, contains data reported by individual industrial facilities (point sources) and, as of today, information on emissions from road transport, shipping, aviation, heating of buildings, agriculture and small businesses (diffuse sources).

Diffuse sources of pollution are widespread and/or concentrated in highly populated areas. A large number of many tiny emissions from houses and vehicles represent collectively a large, diffuse source of pollution, in particular in cities.

The new, comprehensive set of 32 maps allows Europeans to see on a scale of 5 km by 5 km where pollutants are released. They include details of nitrogen oxides (NOX), sulphur oxides (SOX), carbon monoxide (CO), ammonia (NH3) and particulate matter (PM10).

What do the maps show?

While air quality data are publicly available from both national and European data providers[1], these data do not provide information concerning the various sources of pollution. The new maps raise awareness about local releases of air pollutants, and allow citizens to zoom in on their own neighbourhood. In addition, air quality experts can use the data for modelling, thereby assessing the environmental consequences of local emissions.

The spatial distribution maps reveal, for example, large hotspots for emissions of ammonia (NH3) from agriculture in the Po Valley in Italy, in Brittany in France, and the Benelux countries. High levels of ammonia emissions harm the environment by contributing to soil and freshwater acidification and eutrophication.

They also show the extent to which NOX and PM10 emissions from road transport occur in large urban areas and along the main road networks. In cities road transport in particular contributes significantly to the levels of PM10 in the air we breathe.


In 2003, parties to the Aarhus Convention – including the EU – adopted the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTR), which entered into force on 8 October 2009. The EU has gone beyond the PRTR Protocol by requiring Member States to report information on an additional five pollutants to the 85 substances listed, and imposing more stringent reporting thresholds for another six.

Information in the E-PRTR is updated in May each year. In addition to the 27 Member States of the European Union, it also includes data from Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Serbia started reporting to the E-PRTR in 2011. The website now includes the new information on diffuse source releases into air for 2008 covering key pollutants. Further information on diffuse source releases into water and soil will be included in coming years.

About the European Environment Agency (EEA)

The EEA is based in Copenhagen. The Agency helps achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe's environment by providing timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information to policy-makers and the public.

About the Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES)

IES is based in Ispra and it is one of the seven scientific institutes of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). Its mission is to provide scientific and technical support to EU policies for the protection of the European and global environment. The Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) activity of IES provides trends in anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants globally on a scale of about 10 km by 10 km.

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