Air pollution still a 'problem' in EU

15th October 2012


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European environment commissioner Janez Potočnik has admitted that the EU is "some way" from meeting its air quality goals, after the European Environment Agency (EEA) revealed that up to 30% of those living in EU cities are exposed to pollution levels that exceed the current legal limits

In its latest report on air quality, the EEA confirms that concentrations of harmful pollutants, including particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone, are above EU designated safe limits in many of the bloc’s cities.

Pollution limits set out in the Ambient Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC) are being “widely exceeded”, states the report, with 16%–30% of the EU’s urban population breathing air containing too much PM10.

The report also reveals that 22 of the bloc’s 27 member states exceeded NO2 limits in 2010, leaving 11% of Europe’s sensitive ecosystems at risk of acidification and 69% at risk of eutrophication.

Potočnik believes member states have to shoulder much of the blame. “They have insisted on flexibility in applying air quality legislation. This has, unfortunately, not led to better implementation. Too often, the response has been too late,” he said.

“Some still argue that in times of severe economic hardship, air pollution measures are too costly. I would argue that air pollution itself imposes much greater costs on the economy. If you consider all costs, including natural capital accounting, clean air is an investment that makes a lot of economic sense.”

The European Commission is undertaking a wholesale review of its air quality policies in a bid to replicate the success it has had in cutting sulphur dioxide emissions – which halved during 2001–2010. The results of the review are to be published next autumn and Potočnik has pledged to work with member states on how to meet pollution limits.

At the same time, Defra has confirmed that it plans to lobby for amendments to the Directive, in particular the NO2 limits, which the UK has failed to meet in 40 areas and which the environment department argues are too costly.

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