Air pollution control

Clean air is vital for the wellbeing of people and other living organisms. Air pollution control policies aim to maintain high air quality to preserve healthy and pleasant residential environments and viable natural ecosystems. 

Kuumailmapallolento_Sirpa Pellinen 556px.jpg
© Sirpa Pellinen

Harmful effects on ecosystems, health and buildings

Air pollution damages the environment. Air pollutants may acidify water and soil, cause eutrophication in water systems, and generate harmful ozone in the lower atmosphere. Particles, heavy metals and gaseous pollutants represent a direct health risk. Fine particles that can get deep inside our lungs are associated with lung disease and several PAHs have been found to be carcinogenic, while acidic air pollutants may cause material damage in built environments.

Restricting emission sources

Ever since the industrial revolution the amount of pollutants in the air has escalated due to emissions from industry and power stations, the use of fossil fuels, and the growth of transport. In Finland well-planned measures to combat air pollution have led to a considerable reduction in the emissions and acidifying deposits over the last 30 years. Instead, the amount of street dust and long-range transport of ozone have not decreased and emissions from agricultural sources continue to be a problem.

In Finland the air quality on average is still good, which is why the impacts of air pollutants in specific locations are also quite minimal. In difficult weather conditions in winter and spring, however, the amounts of pollutants in certain urban areas may rise to the same level as in cities of about the same size in Central Europe.

Air Pollution Control Programme 2010

In 2002 the Finnish Government adopted a national programme establishing the maximum annual emission levels for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia as from 2010. The programme sets out the measures to reduce emissions in energy production, transport, agriculture and manufacturing industries as well as actions that contribute to emission reduction in working machinery, pleasure boats and residential wood combustion. Finland has successfully reduced emissions in line with the programme, with ammonia emissions as an exception.

International cooperation and EU affairs

The air presents an efficient transport route for gaseous and particulate substances, making it possible for emissions to spread to neighbouring regions and even to the other side of the globe. Emissions from industrial plants in the Kola Peninsula, for example, can at times be observed in northern Finland. This means that, besides national action in Finland, reaching the air pollution control objectives calls for international collaboration. More than half of the small particle loading and acidifying and eutrophying loading comes to Finland as long-range transboundary pollution. All countries in the world share the same ozone layer, which is why the responsibility for its protection rests with the international community.

Finland is a party to the UNECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution, which comprises air pollution control, research and development activities, knowledge exchange, and principles and regulations concerning the monitoring of air pollutants.

Within the EU efforts to reduce the exposure to air pollutants are made both through the EU law (directives and regulations) and local action to influence the air quality protection policies of individual Member States.

The most significant international agreements on which air pollution control and the protection of the ozone layer in Finland are based are:

  • UN Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution to control the transport of air pollutants between countries,
  • Vienna Convention and the more detailed Montreal Protocol under it, imposing strict restrictions on the manufacture, consumption and trade of substances that deplete the ozone layer, and
  • EU directives and regulations. 

UN Convention on Long-range Transboundary Pollution

The UN Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution concluded in 1979 comprises air pollution control, research and development activities, knowledge exchange, and principles and regulations concerning the monitoring of air pollutants. It does not lay down any specific emission reduction obligations, but it creates a framework for collaboration and detailed protocols to be adopted separately.

The protocols specify allowable levels for the parties with regard to e.g. sulphur emissions (Finnish Treaty Series 68/1998), nitrogen oxides (46/1991) and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions (71/1997). The Protocol on Heavy Metals (Finnish Treaty Series 78/2003) presents the emission reduction obligations for cadmium, lead and mercury. The scope of application of the Protocol on Persistent Organic Compounds (68/2003) prohibits or restricts the use of a total of 16 compounds. The updates to the protocol have extended the restrictions to another seven compounds.

The European parties to the Convention agreed in 1999 on the national maximum levels for sulphur, nitrogen oxide, ammonia and volatile organic compound emissions by the so-called Gothenburg Protocol. The aim is to efficiently reduce acidification, eutrophication and ground level ozone formation. By the amendment to the protocol adopted in 2012 the parties agreed on the new emission reduction obligations for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ammonia and small particles from 2020 onwards.

Finland reports on the air pollutant emissions to the Secretariat of the Convention on an annual basis.

Vienna Convention and Montreal Protocol

The actions of the global community to protect the ozone layer were launched in 1985 by the UN Vienna Convention, which provides the framework for the scientific and technical cooperation relating to monitoring the status of the ozone layer. Two years later the Vienna Convention was followed by the Montreal Protocol restricting the manufacture, consumption and trade of substances that deplete the ozone layer.

The restrictions under the Montreal Protocol contributed to a reduction in the emissions of gases that deplete the ozone payer by as much as 98 % by 2010. Thanks to international cooperation, the industrial countries have as a rule stopped using substances that deplete the ozone layer, and there are already indications of the recovery of the Antarctic stratosphere.

Within the EU the requirements of the Montreal Protocol have been implemented by Regulation No 1005/2009, which partly lays down even more severe restrictions on substances that deplete the ozone layer. Further national provisions have been issued by the Member States.

The substances that deplete the ozone layer to be monitored on the EU level are CFC and HCFC compounds, carbon tetracholoride, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, halons, HBFC compounds, bromochloromethane and methyl bromide.

European Union legislation on air protection

The European Union actions to prevent detrimental effects on health and the environment caused by air pollutants are strongly based on the action programme Clean Air for Europe CAFE, last updated in 2013. The programme specifies common objectives for air quality and looks for cost-effectives solution to the most significant air protection problems. These objectives can be achieved by fully implementing the EU legislation that has already been agreed on.

In 2013 the Commission issued a proposal for two new directives: National Emissions Ceiling Directive COM(2013) 920 and Medium Combustion Plants (1–50 MW) Directive  COM(2013) 919. The latter was adopted in June 2015, but the processing of the Emissions Ceilings Directive still continues.

The following reports were prepared in support of the proposed directives:

EU legislation currently in force 

The National Emissions Ceilings Directive of the EU (2001/81/EC) was implemented in Finland by the National Air Protection Programme approved by the Government in 2002 (Finnish Environment Institute 588). The Emissions Ceiling Directive obligated the Member States to reduce the sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia emissions as from 2010.

The EU Directive concerning air quality (2008/50/EC) was implemented in Finland in 2011. The Directive lays down limit values for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter, lead, carbon monoxide and benzene and target values for ozone in the troposphere. Provisions on the concentrations of cadmium, arsenic, nickel and PAH compound benzo(a)pyrene are laid down in Directive 2004/107/EC, implemented in Finland in 2007.

Other EU legislation concerning air pollution control includes the directives relating to the emissions of engines, specifications of petrol and diesel fuels, sustainability of biofuels, and VOC emissions of paints and glues. Emissions into the air and other harm caused by industrial plants are regulated by Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council 2010/75/EU on industrial emissions (EUR-Lex).


Published 2015-09-18 at 11:50, updated 2015-09-18 at 11:44