Limit values on pollution caused by vehicle fuel exhausts and agriculture could be tightened if the EP follows the opinion of its environment committee in September. Environmentalists say the new limits are "a smokescreen".

The proposal to revise the directive on ambient air quality is part of a wider programme to update of the EU’s clean air laws called "Thematic strategy on air pollution", presented in September last year. The most outstanding part of the strategy is to tackle pollution from transport, agriculture and small industrial plants which are currently not covered by existing EU clean air legislation.

The EP environment committee voted overwhelmingly in favour of tightened limit values on air pollution in a vote on Wednesday (21 June). MEPs supported by 39 votes to 11 a report by Holger Krahmer (ALDE, DE) on the proposed revision of the ambient air quality directive.

More specifically, they called for more ambitious targets on reducing concentrations of ultra-fine particulate matter which have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometer, known as PM2.5.

On larger particulate matter - PM10 -, the environment committee voted to reduce their concentrations to 30 millionths of gram maximum per cubic meter (30µg/m3) on average by year 2010.

This is stricter than the 40µg/m3 originally proposed by the Commission. But at the insistence of German conservative MEPs, some flexibility was granted as to how member states should meet the new pollution limits. "We found a balanced compromise between strict health protection and the flexibility" needed at national level, said Krahmer in a statement after the vote.

A final approval in Parliament is scheduled for September but environmentalists are already crying foul. The Greens have called the tightened standards "a smokescreen", saying the proposed new rules would actually weaken existing legislation.

"Today's vote would almost double the number of days a year on which particulate matter (PM10) limit values can be exceeded and, in addition, allow Member States to postpone compliance with air quality norms by more than 10 years. This flies in the face of recommendations from European health scientists and falls far behind US air quality standards," said Finnish MEP Satu Hassi.