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Brussels, 2 July 2009

Air quality: Commission takes decision on Member State requests for additional time to comply with EU air quality standards

The European Commission today adopted nine decisions addressed to Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Spain, France, Hungary and the Slovak Republic concerning temporary exemptions in 94 zones or agglomerations from the EU's air quality standards for airborne particles known as PM 10. Under the 2008 EU air quality Directive 1 , Member States may, under strict conditions and for specific parts of the country, extend the time for meeting the PM 10 standard until June 2011. The Commission decisions approve the time extensions for 19 air quality zones in Austria, Germany and Hungary and raised objections to the exemptions in all other zones.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "Air pollution from PM 10 has serious impacts on human health and compliance with the standards must be our priority. That is why EU legislation sets strict standards. Several Member States failed to comply with the deadline of 2005 for meeting the standards for PM 10 and are still not in compliance. The Commission therefore expects Member States to clearly demonstrate that they are doing their upmost, in the interests of their citizens, to comply with the EU standards in the shortest possible time."

The Commission's decisions

For each zone, the Commission has thoroughly assessed whether the conditions for a time extension have been met.

In 19 air quality zones in Austria, Germany and Hungary, the Commission has decided that the notified exemptions satisfy the conditions in the Directive.

In the remaining zones, the Commission considered that the conditions have not been met, in many cases because insufficient data has been provided or because the measures outlined in the air quality plans submitted to the Commission do not demonstrate that the standards will be met at the expiry of the exemption period. The Commission's assessment has also showed that exemptions will in some cases not be necessary since compliance with the limit values has already been achieved.

Member States may re-notify for zones where the Commission has raised objections if they provide new information to demonstrate fulfilment of the conditions.

Health impacts

Airborne particles (PM 10) are emitted mainly in pollutant emissions from industry, traffic and domestic heating. They can cause asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death.

Air quality legislation

EU air quality legislation sets binding limit values and/or indicative target values for the maximum permitted concentrations of certain pollutants in the air 2 . There are two binding air quality limit values for particulate matter (PM 10) based upon daily and annual average concentrations. These entered into force on 1 January 2005.

Directive 2008/50/EC entered into force in 2008 and allows Member States to notify time extensions for PM 10, NO 2 and benzene. Compliance with the limit values may be postponed until 10 June 2011 at the latest for PM 10. During the time extension period the limit values continue to apply plus a margin of tolerance.

A first decision on time extensions, concerning the Netherlands, was adopted on 7 April 2009. The Commission decided that the conditions for an exemption from the PM 10 limit values were satisfied by all Dutch air quality zones, as well as the conditions for a postponement of the NO 2 limit values until 2015, except for one zone where the extension was set to apply until end 2012.

In January 2009, infringement proceedings were launched against 10 Member States 3 that by then had not submitted notifications or had not notified all air quality zones exceeding the limit values for PM 10.

Conditions for time extensions

The Commission set out the approach it will take in assessing national notifications for extensions in a Communication 4 and a Staff Working Paper 5 adopted last year. The conditions can be summarised as follows:

  • All appropriate measures must have been taken before the initial attainment date to achieve compliance (2005 for PM 10).

  • The cause of the exceedences must be due to one or more of the following factors: transboundary air pollution from other countries; adverse climatic conditions; or site-specific characteristics affecting how pollution is dispersed.

  • Compliance must be achieved by the expiry of the exemption period (June 2011). For each air quality zone an air quality plan must be prepared setting out the planned measures to ensure compliance.

Following notification, the Commission has nine months within which to raise objections, otherwise the exemption is deemed to have been approved. If objections are raised and the limit values continue to be exceeded, enforcement action will be taken.

Further information

Lists of zones in exceedence by Member State:

Time extension website:

1 :

Directive 2008/50/EC

2 :

3 :

Estonia, Slovenia, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, Cyprus, Portugal, Poland

4 :

2 COM(2008) 403

5 :

3 SEC(2008) 2132

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