DW and the European Data Journalism Network have jointly conducted a comprehensive analysis, revealing a dire situation regarding air quality in Europe. Virtually every resident on the continent is exposed to polluted air, with annual levels of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) exceeding the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended limits. This revelation carries significant implications for public health, as air pollution is linked to a heightened risk of respiratory and heart diseases, leading to decreased life expectancy.

The Extent of the Problem

In 2022, DW collaborated with the European Data Journalism Network to scrutinize satellite data from the Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS). The findings were alarming, with a staggering 98% of Europe’s population residing in areas where PM 2.5 concentrations surpass WHO guidelines. WHO recommends an annual average PM 2.5 concentration not exceeding five micrograms per cubic meter of air. However, in some European regions, levels have surged to approximately 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

Regional Disparities

Air pollution levels vary across Europe, with some regions experiencing severe pollution. Areas of particular concern include Central Europe, Italy’s Po valley, and major metropolitan centers like Athens, Barcelona, and Paris. The most polluted regions in Europe recorded annual average PM 2.5 concentrations reaching about 25 micrograms per cubic meter. This analysis offers the first Europe-wide comparison of pollution levels, highlighting regions where air quality has deteriorated and where improvements have been made.

Comparing Globally

While European air quality generally surpasses that of many parts of the world, PM 2.5 levels remain a significant concern. By comparison, cities in northern India, including New Delhi, Varanasi, and Agra, face PM 2.5 values as high as 100 micrograms per cubic meter. Europe’s lower pollution levels still pose significant health risks, emphasizing the urgent need for action.

EU’s Proposed Limit and Expert Opinions

Europe is currently considering new air quality rules, which would allow an annual average concentration of 10 micrograms of fine particulate matter per cubic meter of air. This proposal is stricter than existing standards but less stringent than the WHO’s recommended five micrograms. Experts in the field argue that aligning with WHO guidelines is essential to safeguard public health, even though economic considerations may pose challenges to adopting stricter standards.

Case Studies

The report highlights two case studies that underscore the urgency of addressing air pollution. In northern Italy, persistent pollution, compounded by geographical factors and emissions from various sources, continues to pose a significant health risk. Conversely, in southern Poland, efforts to combat air pollution have yielded positive results through measures such as modernizing household heating systems.

Public Attitudes and Policy

Public awareness and attitudes play a crucial role in shaping air quality policies. Over time, perceptions of air pollution in Poland have evolved, leading to policy changes addressing the issue. Similar shifts are occurring in Italy, with a growing understanding of the impact of air pollution on health. A 2022 Eurobarometer survey reflects a majority of Europeans recognizing respiratory diseases caused by air pollution as a serious concern, signaling a potential shift in policy priorities.


As Europe confronts alarming levels of air pollution, the need for decisive action to protect public health cannot be overstated. Growing public awareness offers hope for more robust air quality policies prioritizing health and aligning with international guidelines. Addressing air pollution remains a critical mission for the well-being of Europeans and the preservation of the environment.