The Petrol Vapour Recovery stage II controls (PVRII) require every petrol station selling more than 3.5 million litres of petrol a year to fit equipment to capture the fumes before 1 January 2010.

Smaller service stations, particularly those in rural areas providing other important services for the local community, are exempt.

Petrol fumes leak into the atmosphere whenever car tanks are filled up. This contributes to ‘summer smog', a combination of ground level ozone - which harms human health, vegetation, and buildings - and particulate matter (PM10), which is associated with premature mortality.

But the new equipment is expected to capture and recycle 85% of the fumes – around 16,000 tonnes per year in total.

“Summer smogs are a too familiar feature in some of our cities,” said Minister for Air Quality Ben Bradshaw.

“They are tangible evidence of the implications for quality of life if we allow levels of pollutant emissions into the atmosphere to go unchecked.

“The legislation which comes into effect this month is part of a package of measures designed to reduce those levels and cut the risks to human health and the environment.

“The impact of the costs involved has been considered carefully. We want a common sense balance between the likely benefits for air quality and protecting the viability of businesses.

“That's why we are confining the measure to larger service stations. Many smaller rural service stations have a vital role in providing other services to communities, and we have set the threshold for fitting the equipment to ensure they are protected.”