Europe is still far from achieving levels of air quality that pose acceptable risks to humans and the environment. The most important health impacts of air pollution are attributed to PM, and mostly in urban areas. Considerable improvements have been achieved in the past decades, thanks to policy and novel technologies. For instance, there are yearly limit values for PM exposure, and there has been a shift to low-emissions vehicles and fuels. But this is not enough.
WHO cautioned that there is no threshold for PM below which no substantial damage to health is observed. Moreover, the European Environment Agency has shown that even with zero exhaust emissions, traffic will continue to contribute to PM emissions through non-exhaust emissions such as tire wear and break wear.
So stricter regulation and cleaner technologies as we know them now will not be sufficient to reduce PM emissions to a level where they do not cause substantial health impacts.
The good news is that part of the solution might be out there: Smaller natural areas and diffuse natural elements in cities and urbanized regions, called urban green infrastructure. We know that plants are capable of scavenging significant amounts of PM. We also know that green plants deliver many other services such as cooling, noise reduction.
However, for instance the fact that plant-associated bacteria can be exploited to further increase the plant’s absorbance capacity is not taken into account by urban planners, nor by policies. Also the fact that there are many other ecosystem services that are valued by stakeholders has not yet been integrated in urban green planning nor in related policy in a comprehensive way.
So nature is out there to improve the quality of our lives, yet we need to plan and MANAGE urban green better than we do nowadays.
This is the starting point for a new project within our Research Group which will be running for 3 years from October 2016. The project is funded by FWO Flanders. It will be executed in collaboration with dr. David Nowak (USDA, Northern Research station – Urban Forests, Environmental Quality and Human Health), Heidi Wittmer (Helmholtz Zentrum fur Umweltforschung – UFZ, Environmental Policy), Slawo Lomnicki (Department of Environmental Sciences at Louisiana State University) and Stan Gawronski (Warsaw University of Life Sciences, Faculty of Horticulture, Biotechnology and Landscape Architecture).
Sounds interesting? Send me an email.