EEA Black Carbon Report Highlights Health and Climate Change Impacts

EEA10 December 2013: A new report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) on measuring black carbon in the air reviews monitoring networks currently measuring black carbon, measurement methodologies and the use of data.

The report, titled 'Status of black carbon monitoring in ambient air in Europe,' provides a summary of: black carbon definitions as discussed in the air quality monitoring community; the current status of black carbon-related monitoring in Europe; and available measurement techniques and associated technical issues, monitoring networks and current data reporting practices.

Noting that black carbon can harm human health and contribute to climate change, the EEA stresses that cutting its emissions has many potential benefits. In recent years, its effects have become better understood, and black carbon is increasingly perceived as a target of environmental control.

According to the EEA, black carbon is the sooty part of particulate matter formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and biomass, and is mostly emitted by vehicles, non-road mobile machinery, such as forestry machines, ships, and coal or wood burning stoves. Of all air pollutants, particulate matter is the most harmful to health in Europe, with the black carbon part being particularly harmful as it represents a mixture of very fine, partly carcinogenic particles.

The EEA points to the existing debate regarding whether reducing this pollutant could make significant inroads in reducing climate change, with some suggesting that black carbon's effect on the climate is more potent than previously thought. In the atmosphere, black carbon absorbs solar radiation, leading to a warming of the atmosphere. When it settles on snow or ice, the darker color absorbs more heat, accelerating melting. [EEA Press Release] [Publication: Status of Black Carbon Monitoring in Ambient Air in Europe]