Children and the old are most vulnerable

Transboundary pollution from hazardous substances, acid rain and ground level ozone from the European continent still cause effects in Norway. One of these effects is the acidification of water courses, which results in damage to fish and other aquatic species. At its worst, a third of Norway was affected by acidification. Transboundary pollution in the form of hazardous substances can be found in every lake in Norway, even those that are remote.

In Norway, it is mainly people with asthma and respiratory complaints and those suffering from cardiovascular disease who experience health problems caused by air pollution. Children and young people, pregnant women and the elderly are also particularly vulnerable groups.

Some improvements, but challenges remain

Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide are the most important components of local air pollution in Norway. Other components such as sulphur dioxide, ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and benzene can also contribute to poor local air quality.

 Number of exeedances of PM10 target levels in urban areas from 2004 to 2013

2008 was the first year the EU limit value for PM10 was met at all measuring stations in Norway. Since then only a few towns have broken the limit, with the exception of 2013 when a total of four towns were above the limit-value.

Deposition of sulfur and nitrogen can lead to acidification of water and soil. In Norway, acidification has resulted in reduced water quality in lakes and rivers in the southern half of Norway, and especially in the southernmost counties. Over the years many fish stocks have been depleted or wiped out, and other aquatic animals and plants have also been affected.

Critical loads are used to define the amount of pollution different ecosystems can absorb without damage to the natural environment. In Norway, freshwater ecosystems are particularly sensitive to acidification. The area where critical loads are exceeded has decreased since the 1980s. In 1980 critical loads were exceeded in 30 percent of the total area. In 2005, the area was reduced to 10 percent. Similar figures for 2012 were 8 per cent. 

The health authorities have generally recommended that pregnant and breast feeding women should restrict their intake of large fresh water fish due to high mercury levels. Ground-level ozone can cause health problems during high episodes and it can also damage vegetation and materials.

Road traffic dominant source of pollution

Road traffic is the dominant local source of air pollution in Norway, especially due to the widespread use of studded tires during the winter months. A car with studded tyres produces up to 100 times more particulate matter than a car with regular tyres.

Wood-burning stoves also make a contribution to the concentration levels of particulate matter, especially on cold days in the winter months.

Other important sources are industrial emissions and long-range transport of pollution from other European countries. As shown in the three figures below, long- range transboundary pollution is still a major pressure in the Norwegian environment.

Main contributors to mercury, sulphur and nitrogen in Norway

Norway met the 2010 emission ceiling for sulphur dioxide in 2006, while emission ceilings for ammonia and nitrogen oxides were not met. The emissions of ammonia were about 4000 tonnes above the target of 23 000 tonnes in 2010. For nitrogen oxides the emission ceiling was 156 000 tonnes in 2010, while the Norwegian emissions were about 182 000 tonnes.

In the revised Gothenburg Protocol, Norway has undertaken to reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide, ammonia and nitrogen, by respectively 10, 8 and 23 per cent relative to emissions in 2005. For Norway, the new requirements represent only minor changes. For sulphur dioxide, the target was reached already in 2007. Emissions of ammonia must be reduced from 27 000 tonnes in 2013 to 25 000 tonnes in 2020, while emissions of nitrogen oxides must be reduced from 162 000 tonnes in 2013 to 156 000 tonnes in 2020.

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Acidification a continuing challenge

The national targets for PM10 and NO2, were not attained in 2013. Projections for 2020 show that the number of people exposed to exceedances of the national target for PM10 will be reduced, primarily due to a decrease in the use of studded tyres and better technology, and increased introduction of clean burning wood-stoves.

Despite approved emissions reductions targets under several regulations such as the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, acidification will continue to be a problem in large areas of South Norway, particularly in the southern and western parts. Even with a maximum feasible reduction scenario, the problems will persist until 2100 and beyond.

It is uncertain how the trend in ozone concentrations will change in the future. New methods for assessing ozone damage to vegetation (flux-based approach) indicate that even southern parts of Norway may experience more damage than previously assumed.

National targets introduced

Statutory limit values for particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, benzene, carbon monoxide and lead based on EUs directives on ambient air quality, are set out in the Norwegian Regulations relating to pollution control.

National targets for air quality have also been introduced for several pollutants. These are based on socio-economic considerations as well as considerations of public health.

Measures to reduce emissions from road traffic are important responses and are divided into two categories: those designed to reduce the volume of traffic and those designed to reduce emissions.

A regulation from 1997 introduced emission limits for PM10 for wood-burning stoves sold in Norway.