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Sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead in ambient air

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To maintain or improve the quality of ambient air, the European Union has established limit values for concentrations of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and lead, as well as alert thresholds for concentrations of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, in ambient air. It has also laid down common methods and criteria for evaluating those concentrations, and gathers appropriate information on such concentrations in order to keep the public informed.

ACT

Council Directive 1999/30/EC of 22 April 1999 relating to limit values for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead in ambient air [see amending acts].

SUMMARY

Council Directive 96/62/EC of 27 September 1996 on ambient air quality assessment and management laid the foundations for a common strategy to define and establish objectives for ambient air quality *.

According to this Directive, the Council was to adopt limit values and, as appropriate, alert thresholds for a number of specific pollutants *.

Pursuant to that requirement, Directive 1999/30/EC contains limit values * for concentrations of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead and alert thresholds * for concentrations of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide in ambient air.

Sulphur dioxide

Member States must take the measures necessary to ensure that concentrations of sulphur dioxide in ambient air do not exceed the limit values laid down in Section I of Annex I, with effect from the dates given.

However, margins of tolerance are provided for in Section I of Annex IV.

The alert threshold laid down in Directive 1999/30/EC is 500
µg/m³ measured over three consecutive hours at locations representative of air quality over at least 100 km2 or an entire zone or agglomeration, whichever is the smaller.

Wherever practicable, Member States were to record, until 31 December 2003, data on concentrations of sulphur dioxide averaged over ten minutes from certain measuring stations they selected, in order to assist the Commission in drawing up a report.

Member States may compile a list of zones or agglomerations within which limit values for sulphur dioxide are exceeded owing to concentrations of sulphur dioxide in ambient air from natural sources. This list is to be sent to the Commission, together with information on the concentrations and sources of sulphur dioxide. Within such zones or agglomerations, Member States are obliged to implement action plans only where the limit values laid down by the Directive are exceeded as a result of man-made emissions.

Nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen

Member States must take the measures necessary to ensure that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and, where applicable, of oxides of nitrogen in ambient air, as assessed in accordance with the rules of the Directive, do not exceed the limit values laid down in Section I of Annex II, with effect from the dates given.

However, margins of tolerance are provided for in Section I of Annex II.

The alert threshold for nitrogen dioxide is 400 µg/m³ measured over three consecutive hours at locations representative of air quality over at least 100 km2 or an entire zone or agglomeration, whichever is the smaller.

Particulate matter

Member States must take the measures necessary to ensure that concentrations of PM10 in ambient air, as assessed in accordance with the rules of the Directive, do not exceed the limit values laid down for stage 1 in Section I of Annex III, with effect from the dates given.

However, margins of tolerance are provided for in Section I of Annex III.

Member States must ensure that measuring stations to supply data on concentrations of PM2.5 are installed and operated. They must select the number and location of PM2.5 measuring stations in such a way that they are representative of PM2.5 concentrations in the Member State concerned.

Within nine months of the end of each year, the Member States must inform the Commission of the arithmetic mean, the median value, the ninety-eighth percentile and the maximum concentration calculated on the basis of the PM2.5 measurements covering a 24-hour period during the year being examined.

Where the limit values laid down for PM10 in Section I of Annex III are exceeded as a result of concentrations caused by natural events, Member States are to inform the Commission of this in accordance with Directive 96/62/EC, providing the necessary justification to prove that such exceedances are due to natural events. In such cases, Member States are obliged to implement action plans only where the limit values laid down are exceeded for reasons other than natural events.

Member States may designate zones or agglomerations within which limit values laid down for PM10 in Section I of Annex I are exceeded owing to PM10 concentrations in ambient air that are due to the resuspension of particulates caused by winter road gritting. Member States are to inform the Commission of this, providing evidence to prove that any exceedances are due to such resuspended particulates and that reasonable measures have been taken to lower the concentrations. In such zones or agglomerations, Member States are obliged to implement action plans only where the limit values laid down are exceeded as a result of PM10 levels other than those caused by the winter gritting of roads.

Lead

Member States must take the measures necessary to ensure that concentrations of lead in ambient air do not exceed the limit values laid down in Section I of Annex IV, with effect from the dates given.

However, margins of tolerance are provided for in Section I of Annex IV.

As for the other pollutants, Member States are to draw up a list of zones and agglomerations within which there is exceedance of the limit value plus the margin of tolerance. Within those zones and agglomerations they must take action to ensure that a plan or programme enabling the limit value to be achieved within the set deadline is drawn up or implemented.

Assessment of concentrations

Directive 1999/30/EC lays down upper and lower assessment thresholds for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and lead in Section I of Annex V.

The classification of each zone or agglomeration is to be reviewed every five years, but may be reviewed earlier if there is a significant change in any activities having an impact on concentrations.

Public information

Member States must ensure that up-to-date information on ambient concentrations of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and lead is routinely made available to the public and to appropriate bodies (in particular environmental protection organisations, consumer associations, bodies representing the interests of any sensitive sections of the public, and any other relevant health-care organisations) by means, for example, of radio, the press, information screens or computer-network services.

For this purpose, information on concentrations is to be updated every day and, wherever practicable, every hour. Information on ambient concentrations of lead is to be updated on a three-monthly basis.

Information given to the public and to organisations must be clear, comprehensible and accessible.

Context

Directive 1999/30/EC repeals Council Directive 80/779/EEC on air quality limit values and guide values for sulphur dioxide and suspended particulates, Council Directive 82/884/EEC on a limit value for lead in the air and Council Directive 85/203/EEC on air quality standards for nitrogen dioxide. Directive 2008/50/EC repeals and replaces Directive 1999/30/EC from 11 June 2010.

Key terms used in the act

  • Ambient air: outdoor air in the troposphere, excluding work places;
  • 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 fixed 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 beyond which there is a risk to human health from brief exposure and at which immediate steps must be taken by the Member States as laid down in Directive 96/62/EC.

REFERENCES

ActEntry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Directive 1999/30/EC19.7.199919.7.1999OJ L 163 of 29.06.1999
Amending act(s)Entry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Decision 2001/744/EC23.10.2001-OJ L 278, 23.10.2001
Directive 2008/50/EC11.6.200810.6.2010OJ L 152 of 11.6.2008

RELATED ACTS

Commission report of 4 January 2005: Review of Council Directive1999/30/EC relating to limit values for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead in ambient air, with consideration of Council Directive96/62/EC on ambient air quality assessment and management [COM(2004) 845 final - not published in the Official Journal].

In this report, the Commission states that, despite the fact that the Directive has only been in force for a small number of years, the limited experience gained from its application has been positive. The limit values set by Directive 1999/30/EC have proven to be important and useful. The margin of tolerance and the special provisions are also considered to have been useful, and so will not be changed. While measures to improve air quality need to focus on PM10 and NO2, the Commission is also evaluating the effectiveness of short-term measures to be taken if there is a risk of limit values being exceeded. Further harmonisation and research is required for particulate matter. Reporting by electronic means is becoming more and more routine but there are still considerable delays and a need for further harmonisation and streamlining.

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: 21.09.2006
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