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Brussels, 18 March 2010

Air quality: Commission continues action over levels of fine particle pollution and sulphur dioxide in Member States

The European Commission is pursuing infringement proceedings against five Member States that failed to comply with the EU's air quality standards for dangerous airborne particles known as PM10. These particles, emitted mainly by industry, traffic and domestic heating, can cause asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death. Slovenia and Sweden are being referred to the European Court of Justice, while final written warnings have been sent to Cyprus, Portugal and Spain. In a separate case, Bulgaria is receiving a final written warning over its failure to control concentration levels of sulphur dioxide.

EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Air pollution is bad for our health. Member States must comply with EU air quality standards quickly and reduce emissions. I am pleased to see that over recent years we have met PM10 limit values in a number of areas throughout Europe, but much more effort is still needed if we want full compliance."

Infringement action on PM10

The Commission's action follows the entry into force in June 2008 of the new EU Air Quality Directive1, which allows Member States to request, under certain conditions and for specific parts of the country, limited extra time to meet the PM10 standard which has been in force since 2005.

At the beginning of 2009, first warning letters were sent to Member States that had by then not submitted notifications or had not notified the Commission about all air quality zones exceeding the limit values for PM10.

Following this warning, most of the Member States involved submitted notifications for a time extension. Slovenia and Sweden did not submit requests for time extensions. As both Member States that had received a final warning in November 2009 continue to exceed the PM10 limit values, the Commission has decided to refer the cases to the European Court of Justice.

Although Cyprus, Portugal and Spain did submit notifications for time extensions, the Commission rejected most of the notified air quality zones on the grounds that they did not meet all the conditions required by the Directive2. The Commission has therefore decided to send a final written warning to the three Member States.

The Commission is continuing to adopt decisions on the notifications of time extensions submitted by Member States. Further infringements may be launched if the Commission raises objections to the requests.

Final warning to Bulgaria over sulphur dioxide levels

In a separate case, Bulgaria is receiving a final written warning for its failure to comply with limit values for sulphur dioxide. In June 2009, the Commission sent Bulgaria a first written warning about the measures in place to meet limit values. The Commission's assessment of Bulgaria's reply confirmed that in 2007 both the daily and hourly limit values for sulphur dioxide were exceeded in two zones, one in the south west and the other in the south east of the country. In view of this, the Commission considers that Bulgaria has not met the requirements of European legislation. A final written warning has therefore been sent.

Limit values

Limit values for PM10 impose both an annual concentration value of 40 micrograms (μg)/m3, and a daily concentration value of 50 μg/m3, which must not be exceeded more than 35 times per calendar year3. Sulphur dioxide limit values consist of both a daily average (125 μg/m3) that cannot be exceeded more than three times per year and an hourly average (350 μg/m3) that cannot be exceeded more than 24 times per year.

Legal Process

The Commission has the power to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations under Community law, under Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The infringement procedure begins with a first written warning ("Letter of Formal Notice") to the Member State concerned, which must be answered within two months. If the Commission is not satisfied with the reply, this first letter may be followed by a final written warning ("Reasoned Opinion") clearly explaining the infringement, and calling on the Member State to comply within a specified period, usually two months.

A failure to act on the final written warning can result in a summons to the Court of Justice. If the Court rules against the Member State, it must then take the necessary measures to comply with the judgment. If, despite the ruling, a Member State still fails to act, a further round of the infringement process begins under Article 260 of the Treaty, this time with only one written warning. This second round can ultimately result in financial penalties for the Member State concerned.

For current statistics on infringements in general see:

Further information:

Lists of zones in exceedance of limit values by Member State

Time extension website

Case nos for PM10:

CY – 2008/2185

PT – 2008/2200

SL – 2008/2202

SP – 2008/2203

SE – 2008/2204

For SO2:

BU – 2009/2135

1 :

Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (see MEMO07/571 and IP/08/570),

2 :

Commission decisions: C(2009)9158, C(2009)9159, C(2009)5228, C(2009)8759, C(2008)2194

3 :

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

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