Brussels/Strasbourg, 26 September 2006
The European Commission welcomes the European Parliament's opinion today on the Thematic Strategy to combat air pollution. However, it is concerned that some of the Parliament's first reading amendments to the air quality directive would weaken important elements of the Commission's proposal.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "I am pleased the Parliament has endorsed our strategy for reducing air pollution and I acknowledge its expressed desire for even more ambitious levels of protection. However I am disappointed that the Parliament's amendments to the air quality directive appear to contradict this objective by weakening the legislation we have proposed in some key respects. Air pollution is shortening the life of every EU citizen by an average of eight months and we need to tackle it vigorously. "
The Thematic Strategy on air pollution, adopted by the Commission in September 2005 (IP/05/1170), establishes ambitious, cost-effective targets for improving human health and environmental quality over the period up to 2020.
As one of its key measures, the Strategy is accompanied by a proposal for a directive on ambient air quality. This would both streamline existing EU air quality legislation and introduce from 2010 a limit on airborne concentrations of fine dust particles (known as PM2.5). Additionally, Member States will have to reduce the exposure levels to PM 2,5 by 20 per cent between 2010 and 2020.
Pollution from fine particles contributes to the premature deaths of 350,000 people across the EU each year. Together with coarser particles (known as PM10), which are already regulated, fine particles are among the most dangerous pollutants for human health.
As proposed by the Commission, the directive would not change the air quality standards that already exist for around a dozen pollutants, but would give Member States more flexibility in meeting some of these in zones where they faced difficulties. This flexibility includes discounting natural pollution sources when assessing compliance, as well as being allowed, under strict conditions, a postponement of up to five years (up to the end of 2009) of the existing deadlines for compliance.
The Commission is concerned at two of the Parliament's amendments in particular. These would:
Commissioner Dimas commented: “We recognise the need for some extra time, but any extensions have to be strictly limited because they mean that people will be exposed to excessive pollution levels - and will therefore be running avoidable health risks - for a longer period. We cannot accept the Parliament's proposal for extensions of more than five years. In addition, weakening the daily limit value for PM10 means that people whose health is most affected by poor air quality may be exposed to higher pollution levels on significantly more days a year even if the annual limit value were to be lowered. This too is unacceptable. "
Air quality standards for PM10 (particles or dust with a diameter less than 10 microns) entered into force on 1 January 2005. The daily limit is 50 microgrammes per cubic metre (averaged over 24 hours) and the annual limit 40 microgrammes per cubic metre. The daily limit can be exceeded on up to 35 days per year in order to take account of unusual and adverse meteorological conditions.
 COM(2005) 447
 Directive 1999/30/EC