Commission objects to Member State delay in complying with EU air quality legislation

11.12.2009   (Europa)
"The Commission found the air quality plan for Greater London did not meet the
minimum requirements of the Directive for a time extension"    
‘Campaign for  Clean Air in London’ says today’s decision is a damning and long
overdue indictment of the UK’s attitude to air pollution, complying with environmental
deadlines and protecting public health
The Campaign for Clean Air in London says:     “One result of Article 22 is that
it could stop the Heathrow expansion in its tracks. This issue should also concern
London Mayor Boris Johnson as he reconsiders the western extension to the Congestion
Charging Zone. Then there are the London Olympics in 2012. The organisers would
face a public relations disaster if the European Court of Justice took enforcement
action against the UK for breaching Article 22 in the months leading up to the
Games. The legal obligations rest on the UK as a Member State.”
Commission decisions object to vast majority of Member State requests for more
time to comply with EU air quality legislation
The European Commission today adopted three decisions concerning requests from
Bulgaria, Poland and the United Kingdom for additional time to comply with EU
legislation on air quality.
The decisions relate to requests for temporary exemptions in 97 zones or agglomerations
from the EU’s air quality standards for dangerous airborne particles known as
PM 10. The decision addressed to Poland also concerned a request for a temporary postponement
of the deadline to meet the Nitrogen dioxide (NO 2) limit values in one zone. The Commission decisions approve time extensions for PM 10 in five air quality zones in Poland but objected to all other requests. Some
17 decisions have already been adopted in 2009. The vast majority of air quality
zones in the EU did not satisfy the conditions for a time extension, or were already
found to be in compliance with the limit values.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Air pollution has serious impacts on human health and compliance with the standards
must be our utmost priority. The 2008 EU air quality Directive recognises the
difficulties some Member States have experienced in meeting the standards for PM 10 by the initial deadline of 2005 and allows the possibility of a limited time
However, the Commission expects Member States to clearly demonstrate that they
are doing their utmost to comply with EU standards in the shortest possible time.”

The Commission decisions

The Commission has decided that in five air quality zones in Poland the notified
exemptions satisfy the conditions in the Directive.

In the remaining zones in Poland, as well as all zones in Bulgaria and the United
Kingdom, the Commission considered that the conditions have not been met. In many
cases, this is because insufficient data has been provided or because the measures
outlined in the air quality plans submitted to the Commission do not demonstrate
that the standards will be met when the exemption period expires.

The Commission’s assessment also shows that in some cases exemptions will not
be necessary since compliance with the limit values has already been achieved.
This is the case in the United Kingdom, where all air quality zones except the
Greater London zone were in compliance in 2008. The Commission found the air quality
plan for this particular zone did not meet the minimum requirements of the Directive
for a time extension.

Where the Commission has raised objections to requests for time extensions, Member
States may put forward further requests if they provide new information to demonstrate
fulfilment of the conditions.

Twenty decisions on time extensions concerning 18 Member States 1 have now been adopted during 2009. The Commission decided that the conditions
for an exemption from the PM 10 limit values were satisfied in 48 air quality zones in Austria, Cyprus, the
Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain.
The conditions for a postponement of the NO 2 limit values were also satisfied in 9 zones in the Netherlands. In these cases,
it has been demonstrated that compliance will be achieved at the expiry of the
time extension period through comprehensive air quality plans.

Health impacts

Airborne particles (PM 10) are mainly emitted by industry, traffic and domestic heating and can cause
asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death. Nitrogen dioxide
(NO 2) is mainly emitted by traffic or other fuel combustion processes and can cause
respiratory illnesses and damage to lung tissue.

Air quality legislation

EU air quality legislation sets binding limit values and/or indicative target
values for the maximum permitted concentrations of certain pollutants in the air.
Action to reduce pollution through an air quality plan is required where there
is a risk of these standards being exceeded.

There are two binding air quality limit values for particulate matter (PM 10) based on daily and annual average concentrations. These entered into force
on 1  January 2005. Two limit values for Nitrogen dioxide (NO 2) based on hourly and annual average concentrations will enter into force on
1 January 2010.

The 2008 air quality Directive 2 allows Member States, under strict conditions, time extensions for meeting the
air quality standards for PM 10 (until 11 June 2011)  and NO 2 and benzene (until 2015 at the latest). During the extension period, limit values
continue to apply plus a margin of tolerance.

Enforcement action is underway against 10 Member States that have not submitted
notifications or to which the Commission has already addressed a decision objecting
to a time extension and which continue to exceed the PM 10 limit values (see
IP/09/174 ).

For further information on time extensions:

For further information on limit values for pollutants:

1 :  Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany,
Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak
Republic, Spain and the United Kingdom.

2 :  Directive 2008/50/EC
link to Europa press release