Air quality in Brussels

Many of us are concerned with the air quality of the cities where we live and work. The Brussels region is slowly waking up on this issue. They recently released data on black carbon pollution levels in Brussels. These measurements are the results of a citizen science program called ExpAir in which some of our colleagues took part. Each participant was given a little box to measure black carbon both outdoor and indoor. Black carbon is a subset of the micro-particles that are subject to the EU legislation on air quality (it makes about 10% of the total mass of PM10 micro-particles, but it is potentially the most harmful part of these particles as it is a direct product of combustion and moreover it can aggregate all sorts of volatile organic compounds that are harmful to our health, including a number of carcinogenic substances).

A number of conclusions were drawn from the ExpAir study. Interestingly, indoor air quality seems to be reasonably good in the office buildings for which measurements were available. Apparently, this includes Commission buildings in Brussels. Not surprisingly, cyclists are affected to a level that reaches on average 3.5 times what is deemed to be safe (1µg/m3). More surprising, however, is the finding that the worst affected category of road users are car drivers, exposed on average to 5 times what is deemed to be safe. The most likely explanation is that back carbon accumulates inside the cars. Pedestrians do much better than users of private cars, but metro users are exposed to high levels of pollution. The likely explanation is that the intake of air in the metro is done at ground level, i.e. where the exhaust fumes of cars are concentrated. A detailed report is available in FR and in NL (but unfortunately not in EN).

More detailed analysis would be useful for the areas where the Commission’s buildings are located. The ExpAir project produced maps of black carbon levels along the main roads in Brussels, both at rush hour and outside of rush hour (Peak hours map/ Normal hours map). Not surprisingly, rue de la Loi and rue Belliard are badly affected by black carbon at rush hour. Less intuitively, other places are also affected, for instance the round-about near the E411 highway at Beaulieu.

Generation 2004 has been sensitive to the issue of air quality for some time. We were the first ones to propose to abrogate reserved parking space in Commission buildings because it is not an efficient use of parking space and because we are against privileges. More generally, any policy that encourages people to drive to work is not only bad for the air quality that we all breath, it is also bad for those who drive according to the ExpAir project. Why not recycle these reserved parking spaces into more parking space for bicycles (in several buildings, there is a shortage of cycle parking spaces because of the steady growth in the number of daily cyclists), add some showers and lockers for those who want to change clothes after cycling to work, but also provide more space for electric vehicles, if possible with charging stations (for cars but also electric bicycles, electric mopeds and electric motorcycles)? Interestingly, the staff representation still has a number of reserved parking spaces (which probably explains why some staff representatives are so conservative on the parking issue) but some organisations are now sharing some of our ideas and sometimes even going further. Mind you, TAO-AFI could start by leading by example… Anyway, we will manage to avoid the usual lack of cooperation between staff organisations and try to move forward on this issue with those willing to collaborate.

In the immediate future, Generation 2004 is tackling the issue of sustainable mobility via the Brussels Local Staff Committee (Łukasz Wardyn, the President of the Brussels Committee is one of our members; that helps to push the issue on the agenda. Other geographical locations face different problems so the outcome of the discussion in Brussels will not necessarily be applicable everywhere but we nonetheless hope to learn general lessons from this exercise). The LSC intervened in favour of more parking space for bikes. More strategically, the Commission is preparing a new mobility plan for its staff posted in Brussels. Previous ones were usually drafted behind closed doors and submitted to the staff representation for rubber stamping. This time, the President of the LSC is hoping to be able to consult Brussels staff more broadly.

For that purpose, a mobility group has been set-up within the LSC with participation of staff representatives, the EU Cyclist Group and independent volunteers interested in the issue. As a first step, the LSC will organise a conference with (we hope) the participation of Pascal Smet, the Brussels regional Minister in charge of mobility and a high-ranking senior official of the Commission. At this conference, the LSC foresees the launch of a consultation of the staff located in Brussels that will feed into the input of the LSC to the Commission mobility plan. The LSC will also push for the release of data on where colleagues live (in aggregated – presumably by commune – and anonymized format, the data are available via the personal information that each one of us has to provide in sysper). Having proper data will help the LSC form an informed opinion on what the mobility needs of the Brussels staff are and presumably make proposals to the Commission mobility plan that will improve the situation of all of us.  If you are interested in participating in the conference or the organisation of the consultation, please get in contact with the secretariat of the LSC ( (or alternatively here).

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