MEPs attempt to strengthen EU air quality law

Parliament calls on Commission to reconsider alert levels for particulates in 2003 review

The European Parliament has given its final reading to the first "daughter" directive to be introduced under the 1996 air quality framework directive. The directive will set maximum levels in air for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), lead and particulate matter (PM10) and was agreed by the Council of Ministers last summer (ENDS Daily 18 June 1998).

The parliamentary rapporteur, UK Socialist MEP Anita Pollack, said the directive would be "a strong and important piece of legislation which goes a long way to ensuring that the air we breathe in Europe will be substantially improved". Eleven amendments were passed, though the Parliament has little power to ensure that the Council of Ministers accepts them because of the measure's legal base.

The proposal includes mandatory "alert thresholds" for SO2 - a point at which the public must be informed that the levels are high enough to pose a danger to health. Last summer EU environment ministers accepted the parliament's view that there should also be a threshold for NO2, but rejected setting one for PM10 because of the lack of scientific knowledge about a "safe" level for particulates.

The Parliament today conceded the point, but voted to insert a clause telling the European Commission to "give particular attention" to setting alert thresholds for PM10 when it reviews the legislation in 2003. EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard, indicated that she would recommend this clause to ministers.

Also on the agenda were tougher air quality standards for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and PM10. Ms Bjerregaard told MEPs that ministers would not accept these amendments, although she personally supported them.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) this afternoon welcomed the Parliament's vote, particularly its call for stricter limits on levels of PM10. In last year's common position, the Council of Ministers agreed a 24-hour limit of 50 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) with 35 exceedences allowed and an annual limit of 40 ug/m3, both effective from 1 January 2005. The Parliament voted to reinstate the Commission's original proposal, which would have allowed only 25 exceedences of the 24-hour 50 ug/m3 limit and would have set an annual limit of 30 ug/m3.

According to the EEB, the stricter standard "could save an additional 10,000 deaths each year in the EU". "The Council of Ministers have to really consider the Parliament's vote seriously before they adopt the final directive," said Sarah Blau of the EEB.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111.

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