Case Studies: Creating a clean, safe environment

Accurate data is essential for monitoring and managing the environment and enabling the design and implementation of effective environmental regulation. Recognising the hazards posed by pollution, the EU has developed an extensive body of legislation which establishes health-based standards and objectives for pollutants in air, water and soil. Key to the successful implementation of these policies is an underpinning measurement infrastructure that ensures that environmental data is robust and consistent across monitoring networks, across national borders and over time.

As allowable pollutant levels decrease, and new types of pollutant are identified, measurement capabilities must be constantly improved to support robust and fit-for-purpose pollutant monitoring and mitigation. This requires both improved measurement accuracy across the measurement infrastructure – at National Measurement Institutes, in accredited laboratories and in environmental monitoring networks – and the development of innovative, practical and cost-effective measurement technologies.

Protecting Europe’s water resources

Water pollution has a significant negative impact on human health and the environment. Increasing demand from citizens and environmental organisations for cleaner rivers and lakes, groundwater and coastal beaches has led the European Commission to make water protection one of its priorities. The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) was established to protect and improve water quality and prevent further deterioration through legal limits on a wide range of known pollutants.

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Improving the quality of indoor air

Air pollution is harmful to public health, damages biodiversity and contributes to climate change. The EU has developed legislation to improve health and environmental quality. However, while significant progress has been made in improving outdoor air quality, indoor pollutants have received less attention. Given that many people spend the majority of their time indoors, research is urgently needed to enable the regulation, assessment and improvement of indoor air quality.

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Accurately measuring indoor pollutants

Many manufactured products in homes and offices, such as building materials and furnishings, can emit chemical vapours which make people feel ill. EU directives require samples of these materials to be tested to ensure emissions stay within safe limits. But this process is complex, and testing labs need more sophisticated reference materials to confirm their instruments are accurately measuring the wide variety of chemical vapours that these materials can emit.

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Formaldehyde emissions monitoring

Formaldehyde, emitted from furnishing and construction materials and from the combustion of organic materials, can cause health problems. Regulations govern safe limits, and monitoring systems check these are not exceeded. Gas standards – cylinders with accurate formaldehyde amount fractions – are used to calibrate these systems, but as air quality limits become stricter, new methods are required for producing standards with lower, stable amount fractions to confirm the performance of monitoring instrumentation.

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Accurately monitoring trace pollutants

Man-made and naturally occurring volatile organic compounds, such as methanol or acetone, affect air quality and the climate by the formation of ozone and aerosols. The World Meteorological Organization’s Global Atmosphere Watch monitoring network tracks these trace compounds and aerosols to increase our understanding of climate trends and the success of mitigation strategies. Improving the accuracy of networks monitoring data requires improved links between lab-based calibrations and networked instruments.

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Measuring roadside air pollution

Air pollution, such as that generated by road vehicles, is known to harm public health, damage biodiversity and contribute to climate change. In response, Europe has made air pollution one of its main concerns and developed an extensive body of legislation, establishing limit values for major air pollutants such as NO2 and particulate matter, to improve human health and environmental quality.

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Improved air pollution monitoring

Air pollution, such as that generated by road vehicles, is known to harm public health, damage biodiversity and contribute to climate change. In response, the EU has made air pollution one of its main concerns and developed an extensive body of legislation to improve human health and environmental quality. Central to this regulatory framework is the European Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC), which establishes limit values for major air pollutants such as NO2 and particulate matter.

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Improved exhaust monitoring

Air pollution continues to be responsible for more than 430,000 premature deaths each year in Europe. Automotive vehicles are a major source of air pollution - of particular concern are the fine particles emitted by diesel and direct injection petrol engines. To improve public health and environmental quality, the EU regulates pollution from road vehicles and new passenger cars must meet the European emission standards (the standard currently in force is known as Euro 6) before they can be type approved.

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Traceability for mercury measurements

Mercury, a highly toxic metal, can be released into the environment from human sources. European and international treaties are in force to limit its emission, introducing the need for reliable mercury monitoring. Cheap and easy to use sensors that can be deployed anywhere in the world and capable of operating without power supplies are needed for monitoring atmospheric mercury levels.

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Better digestion for mercury analysis

Mercury is highly toxic and once released into the environment bioaccumulates into fish and seafood. Released from burning fossil fuels and broken fluorescent light fittings its emissions are regulated by international treaties and EU Directives. For industrial polluters to demonstrate regulatory compliance mercury emissions are carefully monitored. But the continuing use of an empirical equation for calibration and non-optimised chemical analysis methods hinder a robust measurement hierarchy.

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Detecting new pollutants in the air

Atmospheric greenhouse gases are driving global warming. Amongst the most damaging are those containing fluorine and other halogens, frequently used as refrigerants. Per molecule, these are many times more potent than carbon dioxide. Whilst international treaties regulate many of these gases, new variants are continually entering use. To determine their source and atmospheric trends, networks of monitoring instruments need robust calibration standards for measurement accuracy.

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Monitoring ammonia

Ammonia is a harmful pollutant, which damages ecosystems, harms human health and contributes to global warming. The EU has set targets for its reduction and introduced Directives for its regulation, verifying compliance requires accurate ammonia sensors that do not interact with the gas they measure. Improved material test and calibration facilities with robust links to SI units are needed to support the development of sensors based on ammonia inert materials.

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Greater accuracy for ammonia monitors

Ammonia is a harmful pollutant produced by intensive farming which damages ecosystems. Monitoring networks assess environmental ammonia levels and the success of strategies for meeting EU emissions targets. Performing spot checks and ensuring test exercises supply specified ammonia concentrations to the samplers used requires accurate real-time measurements. Optical gas measurement technologies could provide these, but first ways to compensate for effects created by water vapour in the sample are needed.

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Nuclear incident alerts

In the event of a nuclear incident, authorities need to know how to respond to protect the public. A pan-European monitoring network, using Geiger-Mueller counters, stands ready to detect sudden increases in ionising radiation. These counters measure radiation levels accurately, but cannot distinguish between different photon energies, originating from different radionuclide. Modern instruments can make this distinction but need better characterisation before they can be deployed in monitoring networks.

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Fingerprinting nuclear waste

Nuclear power accounts for more than a quarter of the EU’s electricity supply and will continue to play a major role in the energy sector as Europe tries to meet growing energy demands while reducing carbon emissions. Over the next 25 years, around 250 nuclear facilities across Europe are scheduled for decommissioning. To protect public health and the environment, the millions of tonnes of waste generated needs to be sorted and appropriately stored according to the level of radioactive contamination.

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Supporting reduced exhaust emissions

Air pollution continues to be responsible for more than 430,000 premature deaths each year in Europe. Automotive vehicles are a major source of air pollution, particularly fine and ultrafine particles emitted by diesel engine exhausts. To improve public health and environmental quality the EU regulates pollution from road vehicles.All new passenger cars must meet European emission standards for particle number (defined in the Euro 5b and Euro 6b regulations) before they can be type approved for sale in the EU.

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Monitoring exposure to UV radiation

The World Health Organization estimates that a 10 % increase in surface UV radiation could cause an additional 300,000 skin cancers and at least 1.6 million more cases of cataracts worldwide every year. Balancing the risks and benefits of solar UV radiation is a challenge for policymakers and health advisors, and improved UV measuring instrumentation is needed to produce reliable measurements on which to identify long-term trends and base decisions.

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Better optics for UV monitoring

The ozone layer protects us from the harmful effects of solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation, such as increased incidences of skin cancer and cataracts. International treaties such as the Montreal Protocol have been put in place to reduce the use of ozone depleting chemicals such as CFCs. Changes in ozone and UV radiation are monitored across Europe to improve understanding of the recovery of the ozone layer and the effects of UV exposure.

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Supporting the Water Framework Directive

Water pollution has a significant negative impact on human health and the environment. Increasing demand from citizens and environmental organisations for cleaner rivers and lakes, groundwater and coastal beaches has led the European Commission to make water protection one of its priorities. The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) was established to protect and improve water quality and prevent further deterioration through legal limits on a wide range of known pollutants.

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Nuclear incident alerts

In the event of a nuclear incident, authorities need to know how to respond to protect the public. A pan-European monitoring network, using Geiger-Mueller counters, stands ready to detect sudden increases in ionising radiation. These counters measure radiation levels accurately, but cannot distinguish between different photon energies, originating from different radionuclide. Modern instruments can make this distinction but need better characterisation before they can be deployed in monitoring networks.

Download the full case study