The European Parliament's Environment Committee today voted on a Directive fixing health-protection standards for outdoor air quality, which weakens existing health safeguards by allowing anti-pollution measures to be postponed for years to come.

The Committee recommends granting exemptions of up to ten years following the Directive's start date, to allow them time to meet particle limits. What this would mean in practice is that places which do not meet current limits can delay them until 2017 or even 2018, almost twenty years after the standards were first agreed.

“These excessive exemptions are a blank cheque for polluters. Our implementation study shows that half the cities we assessed failed to make pollution reduction plans until after they were legally obliged to. There is also a big difference between what the plan stipulates and the measures actually taken”, says Kerstin Meyer, EEB's Air Policy Officer.

“This proposal means limit values could be postponed for years, while anti-pollution plans are often toothless. This is a bitter blow to our citizens' health”.

The Committee has also changed daily coarse particle (PM 10 ) limits, allowing for the possibility that the number of days exceeding limits is raised above current standards. This would weaken existing health safeguards and will mean that fewer cities make plans to observe the limits. “We are shocked at the Committee's proposals”, says Stefan Scheuer, EEB's EU Policy Director.

“These exemptions with all their conditions are a bureaucratic nightmare. They're unworkable and will bring about an ‘a la carte' Europe , with every region and country setting different health standards. We are about to lose one of Europe 's greatest achievements, our citizens' universal right to a clean, safe environment. We hope Parliament's full assembly will reject the exemptions and ensure environmental and health protection remain at the heart of the EU. The Commission, as the guardian of EU's core values, should consider withdrawing its proposal”.