Brussels, 8 July 2008
The European Commission has written to 23 Member States to request information on what action they are taking to comply with the EU's air quality standard for dangerous airborne particles known as PM10. These coarse particles, emitted by industry and traffic, can cause asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death. The Commission's action follows the entry into force on 11 June of the major new EU air quality directive, which allows Member States to request limited extra time to meet the PM10 standard under certain conditions.
Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for Environment, said: "Air pollution has serious impacts on health and compliance with the standards must be our utmost priority. The entry into force of the new Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe marks a new phase in the implementation and enforcement of air quality standards."
The new directive (see MEMO07/571 and IP/08/570) establishes ambitious, cost-effective targets for improving human health and environmental quality up to 2020. However, in recognition of the difficulty many Member States face in complying with some EU air quality standards, it also allows for the possibility of limited time extensions for compliance. In the case of PM10, for which the mandatory standard has been in force since 2005, this time extension can run until 10 June 2011. It is estimated that on average 40% of air quality zones in the EU currently do not comply with the PM10 standard.
Time extensions will be granted only for zones that satisfy the conditions laid down in the directive, which relate to external factors over which the Member States have no direct control, such as transboundary contributions, and adverse climatic conditions. Outside these areas the air quality standards must be fully complied with already.
On 26 June the Commission adopted a Communication providing guidance to Member States wishing to request time extensions. In assessing notifications for such requests, the Commission will look specifically at the efforts undertaken by Member States to comply by the initial deadline, ie 1 January 2005 in the case of PM10. The Commission must also be convinced that full compliance will be achieved at the expiry of the time extension period.
In the light of this guidance, the Commission has written to the 23 Member States that reported exceedances of the limit value for PM10 in 2006, asking them to provide information by 30 September 2008 on the steps they are taking to achieve compliance. This concerns all Member States except Ireland and Luxembourg, which reported no exceedances of the PM10 standard in 2006, and Bulgaria and Romania, which did not join the EU until 2007.
In the letters, the Commission makes clear that Member States are expected to notify requests for time extensions by 31 October 2008. Failure either to achieve compliance with the standard or to submit notifications by that date will lead to legal action against the Member State concerned.
The PM10 standard consists of two limit values:
DG Environment page on new directive
Page showing exceedances of air quality standards by Member State
 Directive 2008/50/EC
 COM(2008) 403 final