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CYPRUS, along with many other parts of Europe, failed to meet the EU’s air quality standards, according to a report published yesterday.

The EU’s air quality report said almost a third of Europe’s city dwellers are exposed to excessive concentrations of airborne particulate matter (PM), one of the most important pollutants in terms of harm to human health as it penetrates sensitive parts of the respiratory system.

In a Europe-wide survey of PM in 2010, two stations in Cyprus – Nicosia and Limassol –exceeded the 2005 annual limit value of 40?g per cubic metre, as set out in the Air Quality Directive.

PM poses the most serious air pollution health risk in the EU, leading to premature mortality. 

The report estimates that in 2010, 21 per cent of the urban population was exposed to PM10 concentration levels higher than the most stringent, daily, EU limit value designed to safeguard health. 

Up to 30 per cent of the urban population was exposed to finer PM2.5 concentration levels above the -- less stringent -- yearly EU limit values. 

According to the World Health Organisation reference levels, which are even tighter than those imposed by EU law, up to 81 per cent and 95 per cent of urban dwellers respectively were exposed to PM concentrations that exceed the reference values set for the protection of human health – underlining the urgency of the coming review of air legislation.

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, European Environment Agency Executive Director, said: "European Union policy has reduced emissions of many pollutants over the last decade, but we can go further. In many countries, air pollutant concentrations are still above the legal and recommended limits that are set to protect the health of European citizens. In fact, air pollution reduces human life expectancy by around two years in the most polluted cities and regions."

The main sources of PM in Cyprus are traffic, central heating, power station emissions and dust – both local and that from abroad from places like Africa.

And although not much can be done about the sand carried from the Sahara, Environment Commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou says Cypriots can change their behaviour when it comes to transport.

“There can be no more talk. It has to do with the quality of life,” he said.

Cypriots are notorious for driving their cars everywhere but the absence of an efficient and reliable public transport system is a contributing factor.

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