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Management and quality of ambient air

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In relation to the fifth environment programme, this framework Directive establishes the basic principles of a common strategy to define and set objectives for ambient air quality in order to avoid, prevent or reduce harmful effects on human health and the environment, assess ambient air quality in the Member States, inform the public, notably by means of alert thresholds, and improve air quality where it is unsatisfactory.

ACT

Council Directive 96/62/EC of 27 September 1996 on ambient air quality assessment and management [See amending acts].

SUMMARY

To maintain and improve air quality within the Community, this Directive lays down the basic principles of a strategy for:

  • establishing quality objectives for ambient air *;
  • drawing up common methods and criteria for assessing air quality;
  • obtaining and disseminate information on air quality.

The Member States are responsible for implementing the Directive.

The European Parliament and the Council must lay down limit values * and alert thresholds * (see "Related Acts") for the following pollutants *:

  • sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead;
  • benzene and carbon monoxide;
  • ozone;
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), cadmium, arsenic, nickel and mercury.
  • the location where the pollution is excessive;
  • the nature, and an assessment, of the pollution;
  • the origin of the pollution.

Ambient air quality must be monitored throughout the territory of the Member States. Different methods may be used for this: measuring, mathematical modelling, a combination of the two, or estimates. Assessment of this type is mandatory in built-up areas with more than 250 000 inhabitants, or in areas where concentrations are close to the limit values.

If the limit values are exceeded Member States must devise a programme for attaining them within a set deadline. The programme, which must be made available to the public, must contain at least the following information:

Member States are required to draw up a list of the areas and conurbations where pollution levels exceed the limit values.

Where the alert thresholds are crossed, Member States must inform the inhabitants and send the Commission any relevant information (recorded pollution level, duration of the alert, etc.).

Where certain geographical areas and conurbations have pollution levels below the limit values the Member States must maintain those levels below the said values.

The Directive contains provisions on the forwarding of information and on reports on pollution levels and the areas concerned.

Context

The Directive is part of the fifth action programme of 1992 on the environment which in particular recommended the establishing of long-term air quality objectives. It adds to existing European legislation on air quality improvement: Council Directive 80/779/EEC of 15 July 1980 on air quality limit values and guide values for sulphur dioxide and suspended particulates, Council Directive 82/884/EEC of 3 December 1982, on a limit value for lead in the air, Council Directive 85/203/EEC of 7 March 1985 on air quality standards for nitrogen dioxide and Council Directive 92/72/EEC of 21 September 1992 on air pollution by ozone. Directive 2008/50/EC will repeal and replace this Directive as from 11 June 2010.

Key terms used in the act
  • Ambient air: outdoor air in the troposphere, excluding workplaces;
  • Pollutant: any substance introduced directly or indirectly by man into the ambient air and likely to have harmful effects on human health and/or the environment as a whole;
  • Limit value: a level set on the basis of scientific knowledge with the aim of avoiding, preventing or reducing harmful effects on human health and/or the environment as a whole, to be attained within a given period and not to be exceeded once attained;
  • Alert threshold: a level above which there is a risk to human health from brief exposure and at which immediate steps must be taken by the Member States.

REFERENCES

Act

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 96/62/EC

21.11.1996

21.6.1996

OJ L 296 of 21.11.1996

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 1882/2003

20.11.2003

-

OJ L 284 of 31.10.2003

Directive 2008/50/EC

11.6.2008

10.6.2010

OJ L 152 of 11.6.2008

RELATED ACTS

Daughter Directives

Directive 2004/107/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 December 2004 relating to arsenic, cadmium, mercury, nickel and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient air [Official Journal L 23 of 26.1.2005]
This Directive is the final stage in the process launched by framework Directive 96/62/EC of recasting the European legislation on the presence of pollutants posing a risk to human health.
Given that the substances involved are human carcinogens and that there is no identifiable threshold below which they do not pose a risk to human health, the Directive applies the principle of lowest possible exposure to them. It does not set limit values for emissions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), but uses benzo(a)pyrene as a marker for the carcinogenic risk of these pollutants and sets a target value for that substance, to be attained as far as possible. The Directive also determines methods and criteria for assessing concentrations and deposition of the substances in question and ensures that adequate information is obtained and made available to the public.

Directive 2002/3/EC [Official Journal L 67 of 9.3.2002]
Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 February 2002 relating to ozone in ambient air.
This is the third "daughter" Directive of the Air Quality Framework Directive (96/62/EC). Its purpose is to:

  • set long-term objectives (point III of Annex I to the Directive), target values for 2010 (point II of Annex I), an alert threshold and an information threshold (point I of Annex II) for concentrations of ozone in ambient air in the Community;
  • establish common methods and criteria for assessing concentrations of ozone in ambient air;
  • ensure that adequate information is obtained on ambient levels of ozone and that it is made available to the public;
  • maintain or improve ambient air quality;
  • promote increased cooperation between the Member States in reducing ozone levels.

The long-term objectives set in the Directive comply with the World Health Organisation's guidelines on ozone. Where target values are not met, Member States must draw up action plans to reduce ozone in ambient air.
By no later than 31 December 2004, the Commission was to submit a report to the European Parliament and the Council on the application of the Directive, together with proposals for amendments, if appropriate. The Member States had to comply with the Directive by 9 September 2003. Directive 92/72/EEC was repealed on the same date.

Directive 2000/69/EC [Official Journal L 313 of 13.12.2000]
Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 November 2000 relating to limit values for benzene and carbon monoxide in ambient air.
This Directive (the second "daughter" Directive) supplements Directive 96/62/EC by introducing specific limit values for two pollutants: benzene and carbon monoxide. The limit value for benzene is set at 5 µg/m³ as from 1 January 2010, and the limit value for carbon monoxide is set at 10 mg/m³ as from 1 January 2005. The Directive requires Member States routinely to inform the public of concentrations of these two substances in ambient air. The Member States had to comply with the Directive by no later than 13 December 2002.

Directive 1999/30/EC [Official Journal L 163 of 29.6.1999]
Council Directive of 22 April 1999 relating to limit values for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead in ambient air. This is the first "daughter" Directive of Directive 96/62/EC.

Implementing measures

Decision 2004/461/EC [Official Journal L 156 of 30.4.2004]
Commission Decision of 29 April 2004 laying down a questionnaire to be used for annual reporting on ambient air quality assessment under Council Directives 96/62/EC and 1999/30/EC and under Directives 2000/69/EC and 2002/3/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council.
Corrigendum – Official Journal L 202 of 07.06.2004

Decision 2004/279/EC [Official Journal L 87 of 25.3.2004]
Commission Decision of 19 March 2004 concerning guidance for implementation of Directive 2002/3/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council relating to ozone in ambient air.

Decision 2004/224/EC [Official Journal L 68 of 6.3.2004]
Commission Decision of 20 February 2004 laying down arrangements for the submission of information on plans or programmes required under Council Directive 96/62/EC in relation to limit values for certain pollutants in ambient air.

Last updated: 10.11.2005
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