Luxembourg/Brussels, 23 October 2006
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas welcomed today's political agreement by the Environment Council today on the comprehensive new EU directive on air quality as well as its conclusions on hazardous waste movements. The air quality directive will for the first time regulate airborne levels of harmful fine dust particles, while also giving Member States some flexibility if they face difficulties in complying with some existing air pollution standards.
Air quality directive
Commissioner Dimas commented: "I am very pleased that the Council's agreement demonstrates strong commitment to safeguarding the health of Europe's citizens and our environment. The scourge of air pollution is still shortening European citizens' lives by an average of eight months. The Council's text endorses the approach and the level of ambition of the Commission's proposal for tackling this challenge."
The directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe will streamline existing EU air quality legislation and introduce a limit on airborne concentrations of fine dust particles (known as PM2.5). These particles, which are emitted by a wide range of sources including diesel vehicles, industrial processes and household boilers, are today recognized as the most dangerous air pollutant for human health. They contribute to the premature deaths of 350,000 people across the EU each year.
In addition to fixing an annual concentration limit for PM2.5, the directive will require Member States to reduce people's exposure to this group of particles by 20% between 2010 and 2019.
As proposed by the Commission, the new directive would not change existing air quality standards for seven pollutants but would give Member States more flexibility in meeting some of these - including limits on coarser particles (known as PM10) that took effect at the start of 2005 - in zones where they faced difficulties.
This flexibility includes discounting natural pollution sources when assessing compliance and being allowed, under strict conditions, up to five years extra (ie up to the end of 2009) for achieving compliance with the standards for PM10 and nitrogen dioxide.
The Council's text is broadly equivalent to the Commission's proposal allowing Member States a compliance extension of up to three years after the directive enters into force.
The European Parliament voted at first reading last month for a compliance extension of a total of up to six years. It also voted to change the daily limit on concentrations of PM10 particulates by allowing the limit to be exceeded on up to 55 days per year instead of 35 now. The Commission cannot accept these changes because they weaken the existing level of health protection (IP/06/1263).
Commissioner Dimas said: "Today the Member States have sent a clear signal that we need to improve the protection of people's health, not weaken it. They have heeded the message of the new World Health Organization air quality guidelines released earlier this month, which have underlined once again that ambitious targets are essential for cutting levels of premature death and illness related to air pollution."
Commissioner Dimas added that he was confident the Parliament would find common ground with the Council when the directive comes back to the assembly for its second reading under the co-decision procedure, probably in the first half of 2007.
The proposed directive is one of the key measures under the Thematic Strategy on air pollution, adopted by the Commission in September 2005 (IP/05/1170). The strategy establishes ambitious and cost-effective targets for improving human health and environmental quality over the period up to 2020.
The existing air quality standards for PM10 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 a year to take account of unusual and adverse weather.
The limit on PM2.5 concentrations introduced by the new directive would be 25 micrograms per cubic metre, averaged over a year, with effect from 1 January 2015.
Hazardous waste movements
Commissioner Dimas also welcomed the Presidency’s conclusions on hazardous waste movements in the light of the recent incident of toxic waste dumping in Ivory Coast, which killed 10 people and led tens of thousands to seek hospital treatment. The conclusions set out the EU's negotiating position for the eighth conference of parties to the Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal, to be held in Nairobi from 27 November to 1 December.
Commissioner Dimas said: "The recent dumping of toxic waste from Europe in a developing country was a crime that must not be repeated. Strong European and international rules to regulate waste shipments are already in place but clearly Member States need to implement them more effectively. I urge them to do so. We also need to supplement the existing rules with effective sanctions to punish those who cause death and suffering through criminal acts."
 Sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead, coarse particles (PM10), carbon monoxide, benzene and ground-level ozone
 Directive 1999/30/EC