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Transport & Environment (T&E), an environmental NGO focused on transport issues, is advocating for enhanced monitoring of ultra-fine particles (UFP) emitted by aviation, which can affect health, according to a recent study.

Commissioned by T&E and conducted by CE Delft, a Netherlands-based consultancy, the study sheds light on the potential health impacts of UFPs on communities residing near airports. These particles, approximately 1,000 times smaller than a human hair, are difficult to measure but can deeply penetrate the human body, reaching the bloodstream, brain, and placenta.


Linked to various health issues including heart and respiratory conditions, neurological disorders, and complications during pregnancy, UFPs are emitted during takeoff, landing, and at altitude, particularly impacting airport vicinity residents.


T&E criticizes current monitoring efforts, asserting that existing legislation like the European Emissions Trading System (ETS) and the Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD) lack sufficient provisions for monitoring and setting limits on UFP concentrations.


Carlos Lopez de la Osa, T&E’s aviation technical manager, emphasized the urgent need for systematic UFP monitoring: “This tiny pollutant is under-researched and not adequately monitored, despite its potentially significant impact on air quality and public health.”


The study proposes installing sampling points around European airports to measure UFP levels more accurately, advocating for inclusion of UFP targets in future revisions of the AAQD.


In addition to improved monitoring, T&E suggests adopting hydrotreatment to reduce UFP emissions from standard kerosene used in aviation. This process, already employed in road transport and shipping, could reduce UFP emissions by up to 70%, albeit at an additional cost of approximately five cents per liter.


Lopez de la Osa expressed disappointment in the slow progress of UFP monitoring implementation, calling for more ambitious reductions in aviation emissions to improve air quality and public health with minimal political resistance.


The study, based partially on data from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, estimates significant health impacts from UFP emissions around Europe’s busiest airports, suggesting potential links to 280,000 cases of high blood pressure, 330,000 cases of diabetes, and 18,000 cases of dementia among 51.5 million residents.


While advocating for stringent monitoring and emission reduction measures, T&E also proposes policies such as halting airport infrastructure expansion, implementing flight caps, promoting rail travel over air travel, and targeted taxation of the aviation sector.


Looking forward, T&E urges the European Commission to establish a jet fuel standard that progressively reduces aromatics and sulfur content, facilitating the adoption of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) with minimal UFP emissions.

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