‘In 93% of Flanders fine particles treshold exceeded in 2019’
In 93% of Flanders, the threshold value of fine particles was exceeded in 2019, causing 4 800 premature deaths a year. The ozone standard was exceeded in the whole of Flanders. as well. Only the regions of Haspengouw, Maasland, and the south of Flemish Brabant remained under the strictest levels for particles.
These are some of the conclusions of the 2020 report of the Flemish Environment Society (Vlaamse MilieuMaatschappij, VMM). Until recently, researchers supposed that the concentrations of particles in Limburg were relatively high due to imported pollution of the Ruhr Area. It seems that between Maaseik and Riemst (at the eastern border of the country), the lowest levels are measured. And it is not clear why.
“We suppose it has to do with the less intensive agriculture, a less dense population, and the presence of woods,” says Katrien Smets of VMM. According to new calculations, Flanders exports 1,5 times more particles to neighboring countries than are imported from abroad.
The measurements refer to PM2,5, which are particles smaller than 2,5 micrometers. According to the World Health Organization, they’re the most harmful for our health because they’re so small they can enter the lungs.
They’re also responsible for several diseases and they affect our brains. They’re as dangerous for our heart as cholesterol and smoking and, according to the WHT, they kill 7 million people a year.
VMM estimated that in Flanders, particle concentration in the air causes 4 800 premature deaths a year. Ozone is responsible for some 200 premature deaths, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) between 1 500 and 1 800.
Figures should not be added up, VMM says, because it’s impossible to distinguish premature deaths from NO2 and particles. Apart from that, more people with less serious complaints are getting sick from polluted air.
The most important sources of pollution are heating, traffic, the industry, and agriculture. Emissions of traffic and the energy sector, however, have decreased since 2000. Households, on the contrary, are important producers of particles, particularly during the cold winter months. The most polluting way of heating is burning wood.
Europe uses an annual limiting value of 25 micrograms per m3 of the air; the WHO takes 10 micrograms/m3 as the standard. With the latter, 90% of Flanders would get code orange or even red. The EU standards usually are less strict because they bear in mind the technical feasibility and economic consequences.
Hot summer, high ozone levels
For NO2, however, the EU follows the strictly recommended values of the WHO. 2019 was a hot and thus a bad ozone year. The European and the WHO standards on all measuring points in Flanders were exceeded. Limburg suffered most because the typical Limburg sandy soil makes temperatures rise.