Air pollution in Copenhagen Airport


The goal of this solution was to minimize air pollution for workers at Copenhagen airport in Denmark.
Target population and setting
The target population of this solution consisted of workers at Copenhagen airport. Many of these workers were concerned because of the high prevalence of serious illnesses, including cancer, among their colleagues. The main contributor to these health problems is air pollution at the workplace, for example because workers are exposed to aircraft exhaust, fuel emissions and dust particles throughout the day. Several workers were actually considering to discontinue working at the airport. In 2008, the first case of cancer was diagnosed among the workers, and these numbers have been increasing since then. Therefore, awareness of the problem increased, and solution to the air pollution at Copenhagen airport had to be found.


  1. The problem of air pollution at the Copenhagen airport became especially acknowledged when the National Board of Industrial Injuries in Denmark reported the first cancer case of an airport employee to work-related air pollution. At Copenhagen airport, a working group was assembled, which consisted of managers from Copenhagen Airport, companies operating in the airport and unions representing the employees. The working group was coordinated by the airport itself.
  2. Researchers were hired from the Department for Environmental Science at the University of Aarhus, to conduct measurements regarding air pollution (2009). Also, the United Federation of Danish Workers (3F) hired an air pollution specialist from The Danish Ecocouncil to advise the working group. In a first report in 2010, tests revealed a dangerously high concentration of ultra fine particles (UFP) in the air. Most of these particles can be categorized as Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), inorganic gases like sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). A key element in these analysis was that especially ultrafine particles seemed to contribute to the health problems of workers, while less attention was given to these particles compared to larger particles. Ultrafine particles can be transferred within the body, directly to the blood and might also reach the brain. In conclusion, ultrafine particles were identified as a major and, to that time, underestimated threat to the workers’ health. This directed the focus of the working group towards identification of solutions for air pollution by UFPs.
  3. The working group participated in several brainstorming workshops to come up with solutions. Some solutions were implemented immediately, and others were explored and evaluated for effectiveness on pollution and safety. Overall, 25 projects were developed which were spread across four main areas: behavior, ground support equipment, stand technology and operations, research and analysis. Examples of these projects are: behavioural campaigns and flyers such as a ‘turn off the engine’ campaigns with focus on vehicles, regulation of the use of the aircraft’s APU’s (auxiliary power unit), dictating single engine taxiing for aircrafts, an increased proportion of green vehicles with less exhaust, attaching particle filters on machinery, and so on. All of the examples are listed in the report (see attachment).
  4. Alongside the implementation of these innovations, a cohort study is conducted to study the prevalence of serious illnesses including cancer among the workers at Copenhagen Airport. The project will continue to exist in the future.


This project was funded by Copenhagen Airport.

Lessons learned

  • It is important to establish a committee within your organization (i.e., airport) that has a focus on UFP’s. In the committee, all relevant stakeholders must be represented in order to make a significant change. Relevant stakeholders in this project included the airport management, companies operating in the airport, unions and researchers.
  • Before solutions are identified, it is essential to get a grip on the size of the problem of air pollution in your setting. It is recommended to first monitor the level of UFPs, throughout the seasons due to seasonal changes in equipment and air quality.
  • When developing a strategy for change, set up a plan with deadlines and specific and measurable targets.

Air pollution in airports

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Lars Brogaard
The United Federation of Danish Workers (3F)
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • Dust
  • Airport employees
Sector / branche
  • Transportation and storage
  • Accommodation and food service activities
Solution types
  • 1. S – Substitution
  • 2. T – Technical measurements
  • 3. O – Organizational measurements