Green light for EU air quality law

Air limits on benzene, carbon monoxide, get ministerial nod; scrap cars directive in force

EU agriculture ministers have adopted a groundbreaking directive on air quality which should see emissions of benzene drop 70% by 2010 and those of carbon monoxide by one-third by 2005. The second EU "daughter directive" to be passed following the 1996 air quality framework directive, the law has also broken recent trends by being agreed without the need for conciliation talks between governments and the European Parliament.

The substance of the law was agreed by environment ministers last year (ENDS Daily 13 December 1999) and approved by the European Parliament at its second reading earlier this year (ENDS Daily 6 July). Member states will have to limit ambient air concentrations of benzene to 5 micrograms per cubic metre within ten years. They will also have to bring down carbon monoxide concentrations to below 10 milligrams per cubic metre within five.

The directive is noteworthy as the limit on benzene is the first at EU level on any airborne carcinogen (ENDS Daily 2 December 1999). Benzene is largely derived from road transport and the new law, along with recently passed EU fuel quality regulations, is expected to lead to sharp reductions from this sector. Nevertheless, badly congested cities experiencing difficulty meeting the benzene target will be allowed to seek a maximum of five extra years to comply.

Agriculture ministers rubber-stamped the law after EU diplomats working on the dossier accepted the sole amendment proposed by the parliament in its second reading. This obliges the European Commission to take account of indoor sources of benzene - previously excluded from the directive's scope - when it reviews the directive in 2004.

* Meanwhile, the EU's celebrated end-of-life vehicles directive, which introduces producer responsibility for scrap cars, entered into force on Saturday when the full text of the law was published in the EU's official journal. Car makers will be responsible for a "significant" portion of the costs of recycling new cars from 1 July 2002 and "existing" cars from 1 January 2007 (ENDS Daily 24 May).

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, +32 2 285 6111, and Agriculture Council minutes; ELV directive text with associated Commission statements.

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