Air pollution surges in Europe as heatwave sweeps across continent
Air pollution is spiking across Britain, France, and southern Europe amid record-breaking temperatures and scorching wildfires.
Scientists with the EU Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) warned on Tuesday of unhealthy levels of ozone pollution across southern and western Europe which could soon affect northwestern regions.
The World Health Organization has set an eight-hour surface-level ozone exposure limit of 100 micrograms per cubic meter. Southeast England, northern France, and the Benelux region are all currently seeing daily concentrations greater than 120 micrograms.
"The air quality impacts are not negligible in relation to this heatwave," said Mark Parrington, senior scientist with CAMS.
Ozone pollution forms when heat and sunlight interact with greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds released during the burning of fossil fuels.
Ozone production accelerates during a heatwave, Parrington said, as these chemical reactions happen faster.
Scientists say ozone pollution will increase under climate change. Global temperatures are now about 1.2C above pre-industrial levels and heatwaves have become more frequent and more severe.
Surface-level ozone is known to worsen respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and has been linked to increased mortality rates.
Long-term exposure to ozone pollution is responsible for 55,000 premature deaths annually in Europe, according to a 2019 study in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
The study found that ozone pollution-associated mortality could be 11% higher in some central and southern European countries in 2050 due to climate change. However, if emissions of greenhouse gases are slashed, ozone-related deaths are projected to decline.
A fierce heatwave in western Europe has left much of the continent wilting under a scorching sun, feeding ferocious wildfires and threatening to smash more temperature records on Tuesday.
The European heatwave is the second to engulf parts of the southwest of the continent in recent weeks.
European Commission researchers, meanwhile, said nearly half (46 percent) of EU territory was exposed to warning-level drought. Eleven percent was at an alert level, and crops were already suffering from lack of water.