Air pollution control

Good air quality is important for human health and comfort. It is also essential for biodiversity and for the preservation of the built environment. The objective of Finland’s air pollution control policy is to improve people’s wellbeing by safeguarding a good state of the environment, including good air quality, and to safeguard biodiversity and prevent the acidification and eutrophication of ecosystems. This objective implements for its part the public authorities’ constitutional obligation to make efforts to secure the right to a healthy environment for everyone. The Ministry of the Environment is responsible for ensuring through decision-making and by steering its administrative branch that this basic right is realised in Finland.

Air pollution causes a variety of harmful effects

Air pollutants are seriously harmful to human health and cause between 1,600 and 2,000 premature deaths in Finland every year. The adverse effects on health are largely (64%) caused by fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which contains carcinogenic PAHs and heavy metals. The particles are transported by air to all parts of the respiratory tract, causing damage in the lungs and, through circulation, also in the cardiac muscle, the brain and other parts of the body. The effects of the other air pollutants are also serious, but less so compared with fine particulate matter. Although the long-range transport of emissions is declining as a result of the measures taken by the EU, the partly unregulated emissions generated near the breathing height by small-scale wood burning, street dust and road traffic still remain.

In addition to the harmful effects on human health, air pollutants cause acidification and eutrophication in the environment and material damage in the built environment. In Finland, the areas that are vulnerable to acidification are estimated to constitute less than one per cent of the surface area of ecosystems and the areas vulnerable to eutrophication about three per cent.

Measures are taken to prevent harmful effects

Air pollution control policy is aimed at reducing harmful emissions and thus minimising the concentrations of harmful gases such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ammonia and fine particulate matter in the lower atmosphere.

Emission reduction is primarily based on EU directives that have been implemented by national legislation, mainly by the Environmental Protection Act (527/2014) and the decrees issued under the Act.

In addition to the regulation of emission sources and the monitoring of air quality, decisions taken in other sectors such as the climate, energy, transport and agricultural sectors may affect air quality and exposure.

Steering of air pollution control

The Ministry of the Environment prepares the national objectives of air pollution control, participates in international cooperation and develops and prepares air pollution control legislation and other means of reducing the harmful effects of air pollutants. Through the environmental permit procedure, regional and municipal operators are responsible for ensuring that operators reduce their emissions as required by legislation. The Finnish Environment Institute gathers the national data on emissions, reports it to the EU and to the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, and coordinates and reports on the monitoring of the impacts of air pollution. The responsibility for the monitoring of air quality lies with municipalities and, at rural background locations, with the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

Air quality limit values and guideline values

The Government Decree on Air Quality (79/2017) sets the limit values for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxides, inhalable particles, fine particulate matter, lead, carbon dioxide and benzene in ambient air. A limit value is the highest permitted concentration of air pollutants. Under the Environmental Protection Act, municipalities must draw up and implement air pollution protection plans which ensure that, if limit values are exceeded or are at risk of being exceeded, the concentrations will be below the limit values by the given time limits.

The same Decree lays down a target for reducing population exposure to fine particulate matter and a target for the maximum level of exposure. The Decree also lays down provisions on the information threshold and the alert threshold concerning ozone concentrations in ambient air and on long-term objectives and target values. The limit and target values are based on the EU’s Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC). Furthermore, an EU directive on air quality (2004/107/EC) has been implemented by the Government Decree on Airborne Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, Nickel and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (113/2017).

Finland also has an existing government decision on air quality (480/1996) dating from the end of the 1990s. It lays down the guideline values for the permitted amounts of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide, total suspended particles, inhalable particles and total reduced sulphur in outdoor air. The starting point for the guideline values is the prevention of adverse effects on human health and nature and ensuring people’s general wellbeing and comfort.

More information

Tarja Lahtinen, Ministerial Adviser 
Ministry of the Environment, Ympäristönsuojeluosasto, Päästöt ja ympäristöriskit 0295250149  

Katja Ohtonen, Senior Specialist 
Ministry of the Environment, Ympäristönsuojeluosasto, Päästöt ja ympäristöriskit 0295250168