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Brussels, 5 May 2010

Environment - air quality: European Commission sends final warning to Italy over levels of fine particle pollution

The European Commission is pursuing legal action against Italy for failing to comply with EU air quality standards for dangerous airborne particles known as PM10. These particles, emitted mainly by industry, traffic and domestic heating, have been linked to asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death. A second and final written warning has been sent to Italy for exceeding the limit values for PM10 in many zones or agglomerations across the country.

EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Air pollution continues to cause more than 350,000 premature deaths in Europe each year. There are still too many places in in Italy where, for every 10,000 inhabitants, more than 15 people die prematurely due to particulate matter alone. Member States must continue to take the matter of EU air quality standards seriously and take the action needed to reduce emissions".

Infringement action on PM10

The Commission's action follows the entry into force in June 2008 of the new EU Air Quality Directive1. The Directive allows Member States to request, under certain conditions and for specific parts of the country, limited extra time to meet the PM10 standards which have 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 for time extensions or had not done so for all of the air quality zones exceeding the limit values for PM10.

As a result, most Member States involved submitted notifications for a time extension. Italy submitted two notifications covering about 80 air zones in 17 different regions and autonomous provinces. However, the Commission rejected most of the notified air quality zones as they did not meet all the conditions required by the Directive2. In most cases Italy was not able to demonstrate that the action taken will ensure that EU limit values will be respected by the extended deadline.

Italy did not submit new notifications. The Commission has therefore decided to send a final written warning. If Italy fails to take the necessary measures to comply with the legislation, the Commission could refer the case to the European Court of Justice.

The Commission is continuing to adopt decisions on the notifications of time extensions submitted by Member States. Further steps in infringement procedures against other Member States may be launched if the Commission raises objections to the requests.

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.

Time extensions

Time extensions apply only in those air quality zones for which it is demonstrated that an effort was made to achieve the limit values in 2005 but that compliance was not possible due to specific external circumstances. Member States must also demonstrate, through the establishment of an air quality plan for each zone, that compliance will be achieved by expiry of the new deadline in June 2011.

For information on infringements in general see:

Further information:

Lists of zones in exceedance of limit values by Member State

Time extension website

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)7390 and C(2010)490

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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