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New data on atmospheric benzene is released

The average level of urban pollution increases moving from Northern to Southern Europe, according to results announced on 26 January by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre. The news came at a press conference in Milan, where scientists presented the findings of the...
The average level of urban pollution increases moving from Northern to Southern Europe, according to results announced on 26 January by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre. The news came at a press conference in Milan, where scientists presented the findings of the detailed pan-Europe study "MACBETH" (Monitoring of Atmospheric Concentrations of Benzene in European Towns and Homes).

To find out how much the cancer-causing molecule is responsible for diseases like leukaemia in our cities, scientists used data from "photographs" of the concentration of benzene in the atmosphere of six European cities. They also measured how much benzene individual citizens were actually exposed to.

The least polluted town, in the study, was Copenhagen. Its average annual atmospheric concentration of benzene was around a quarter of the most polluted city, Athens. The researchers say this difference is entirely dependent on meteorological conditions - with the least polluted towns being the most ventilated.

The research also revealed that individuals within cities are exposed to levels of benzene generally higher than the average urban pollution level. But in northern towns like Antwerp, Rouen, and Copenhagen this, unexpectedly, also depends on indoor pollution.

The causes of indoor pollution are still under investigation, but the scientists believe it is probably related to the type of building and furniture materials used in Northern towns - and life-style. This is because In cold climates, people tend to keep their windows closed for longer periods and reduce ventilation through their homes.

The forecasts from the project are important because they will be used to determine the limits set by the 1999 European Directive on benzene emissions. In addition to thinking about average levels of pollution in the atmosphere, policy makers will now also have to take into account citizen's individual exposures to levels even higher than the average for atmospheric urban pollution. This happens partly because people are most likely to visit city centres at the most polluted time of day, but also because of high levels of pollution in their homes.

Source: European Commission -Joint Research Centre

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