T&E: ‘Ultrafine particles from aviation put 52 million Europeans at risk’

According to a new study by the environmental group Transport & Environment (T&E), 52 million people in Europe – more than 10% of Europe’s total population –are exposed to ultrafine particles (UFP) from aviation.

The study, released on Tuesday by Dutch consultancy CE Delft on behalf of T&E, found that they’re affected by the 32 busiest airports. In the UK alone, about six million people living within a 20 km radius of London Gatwick, Stansted, Heathrow, and Manchester airports are affected. In Paris, one of the cities included in the study, 8 million people are affected by its two main airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly.

Severe health problems

The study explains that UFPs are smaller than 100 nanometers in diameter – about a thousand times smaller than a human hair – and can penetrate deeply into the human body. They have been found in the blood, brain, and placenta.

Exposure to UFPs can be linked to the development of severe and long-term health conditions, including respiratory problems, cardiovascular effects, and pregnancy issues. Exposure may also be associated with 280,000 cases of high blood pressure, 330,000 cases of diabetes, and 18,000 cases of dementia in Europe.

Today, there is no regulation on safe levels of UFPs in the air, even though the WHO warned it was a pollutant of emerging concern over 15 years ago.

Better-quality jet fuel

According to the researchers, using better-quality jet fuel could reduce UFPs by up to 70%, as the amount of UFPs emitted by planes depends mainly on the composition of the fuel.

The cleaner the aviation fuel, the less pollution it generates when burnt. Reducing UFP emissions through better-quality jet fuel would benefit the population living near airports and the planet.

‘Hidden health crisis’

Other recommended measures to reduce UFPs include reducing air traffic and aviation’s exponential growth and using cleaner technologies, like sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) and zero-emission aircraft that release much fewer pollutants.

Matt Finch, T&E’s UK policy manager: “This is a hidden health crisis. […] We cleaned up road transport decades ago, but the aviation industry, as ever, has been dragging its feet. Once again, it’s a case of prioritizing profits rather than pollution.”


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