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Europe on track to exceed air pollutant emission limits

In 2010, almost half of the European Union’s Member States will exceed the legal limits of air pollutants. New research from the European Environment Agency (EEA) states that 11 countries expect to exceed their emissions ceilings by significant amounts — some missing Nitrogen oxide (NOx )targets by more than 40 %.

Of the four pollutants covered by the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NEC) Directive, EU Member States have the greatest difficulty meeting the emission limits for nitrogen oxides (NOx). Only 16 expect to achieve their respective NOx ceilings, with road transport bearing most of the blame.

The NEC Directive sets pollutant-specific and legally binding emission limits for four main air pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and ammonia (NH3). These pollutants are known to damage both human health and the environment. They add to the formation of ozone and particulate matter and lead to acidification and increase in the concentration of chemical nutrients in an ecosystem. The health and environment community have long warned of dangers to health from airborne particles emitted mainly by industry, traffic and domestic heating as many are linked to asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death. Member States have to step up their efforts to meet the NEC Directive’s ceilings by this year in order to deliver the agreed health and environmental benefits.

Several Member States, including Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom, expect to exceed their respective NOx ceilings by less than 5 %. In contrast, France and Spain expect to exceed their ceilings by 261 kilotonnes and 236 kilotonnes respectively — equivalent to surpluses of 32 % and 28 %. Other countries, expecting lower surpluses in absolute terms, would exceed their limits by even larger margins, notably Austria (42 %), Belgium (43 %) and Ireland (47 %).

This report could hardly have been more timely, as only last month (May) the European Commission sent a final warning to Italy over levels of fine particle pollution.

Italy have failed to comply with EU air quality standards for PM10, this breach has lead the European Commission is pursuing legal action. 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".

Read the full press release from the Commission here.

An EEA technical report and the final dataset will be published later in 2010 documenting in more detail the NEC Directive data reported recently by Member States. The preliminary reported 2008 emissions and 2010 projections data used for this analysis are currently available.

More information on the EEA’s findings

Information on air pollution and transport, please see the EEA’s TERM report.

Infringements in general see

Find out the air quality in your area:

[Lists of zones in exceedance of limit values by Member State]

Time extension website

Written on 30 June 2010.



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