Mediterranean countries find it harder to comply with the EU clean air directive due to the prevalence of natural pollution. Chief among these natural pollutants are desert sand, sea salt, volcanic ash and particulate matter from forest fires.
The European Environmental Agency (EEA) reports that Spain has the highest levels of natural pollutants. The country regularly experiences forest fires, with the most recent occurring this month.
The report cited 42 instances wherein the recorded levels in Spain were above the legal limits, from this figure there were 18 instances caused by natural pollution. This report represented the first European study of its kind.
The Observatory of Sustainability, an independent organization in Spain, cites the nearness of the Sahara desert as a contributory factor. The desertification brought about by climate change makes the entire Iberian Peninsula especially vulnerable.
To underline the seriousness of the situation, ten other countries including Cyprus, Greece and Italy had reported air pollution beyond legal limits due to natural pollution.
Jacqueline Mcglade, EEA executive director, said the report should mobilize the authorities to do all that can be done to reduce air pollution from sources that can be controlled. The cumulative effects of artificial and natural particulates could seriously undermine people’s health.
The World Health Organization reports that short-term exposure to air particulates can cause difficulty in breathing, while long-term exposure can impair lung function and shorten life expectancy.
In Spain, air particulates had been connected to asthma in children and premature death, according to the Observatory of Sustainability.
The European Union’s Air Quality Directive, first adopted in 2005, requires 20 percent reduction in air pollution by 2020. The directive allows member countries to subtract pollution from natural sources in the values they report to the European Commission.
The problem in this system is lacked of standardization. Each country has different methods of measuring artificial and natural pollution, hence, it is difficult to make consistent evaluations.