European Commission Takes Bulgaria, Belgium to Court over Poor Air Quality

Politics » BULGARIA IN EU | June 18, 2015, Thursday // 13:50
Bulgaria: European Commission Takes Bulgaria, Belgium to Court over Poor Air Quality Photo by EPA/BGNES

The European Commission is referring Belgium and Bulgaria to EU Court of Justice over persistently high levels of the dust particles which pose a major risk to public health.

Despite an obligation for Member States to ensure good air quality for citizens, air quality has been a problem in many places for a number of years now, according to a media statement of the EC.

Studies show that every year poor air quality causes more deaths than road traffic accidents.

Tiny particles known as PM10s, mostly resulting from human activities such as transport, industry and domestic heating cause respiratory problems, lung cancer and premature death.

EU legislation has set limit values for PM10 (i.e. particulate matter of a diameter of less than 10 microns) since 2005.

In case of exceedance of such limit values, Member States adopt air quality plans and ensure that such plans set appropriate measures so that the exceedance period can be kept as short as possible by adopting decisive and more forward-looking action.

In Bulgaria, despite a number of measures taken and some reductions in PM10 emissions registered at most monitoring points since 2011, the data shows persisting non-compliance with the annual and/or daily limit values for PM10 in all the country's 6 zones and agglomerations other than in Varna, which complied with the annual limit value once – in 2009. Today's decision follows a reasoned opinion sent in July 2014.

The main limit values for which there are compliance problems in the EU are PM10, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) originating in traffic fumes and (to a much lesser extent) SO2. For SO2 only one Member State is in infringement, while for PM10 we have court cases against 16 Member States. For NO2, there are 6 procedures under way.

The Commission also took action today against another Member State, Sweden, for poor air quality, sending a reasoned opinion.

There are 16 open infringement actions for PM10 at various stages, against Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Belgium and Bulgaria are the first cases of this type to be brought to Court.

Airborne particles (PM10) are mainly present in emissions from industry, traffic and domestic heating. They can cause asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death.

European legislation on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe requires Member States to limit the exposure of citizens to these particles. The legislation sets limit values for exposure covering both an annual concentration value (40 ?g/m3), and a daily concentration value (50 ?g/m3) that must not be exceeded more than 35 times in a calendar year.
The limit values for PM10 entered into force in 2005.

The Commission has also started taking action on another carcinogenic pollutant, NO2 for which EU legislation has set limits since 2010. Most emissions result from traffic and diesel cars in particular. Seventeen Member States have reported excess levels since 2010, and infringement proceedings have already been opened against the United Kingdom, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Germany and France. Action against other Member States may follow.

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Tags: European Commission, EU Court of Justice, air quality, dust particles, particulate matter, infringement proceedings
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