UK to push for EU action on particle pollution

Report shows PM10 imports preventing achievement of national air quality standard

The UK government pledged today to seek European action to cut pollution by fine particles (PM10), revealing that a national air quality standard for PM10 will not be met, in part due to imports of pollution from continental Europe. The move came on the same day as MEPs called for stronger EU limits on PM10 levels (see separate article in today's issue).

Welcoming a new expert report on particle pollution, environment minister Michael Meacher said that levels of PM10 in UK air were falling, "but not fast enough". The new evidence showed that "this is not a problem we can solve on our own," he continued. Ministers would be pressing for concerted European action at the next meeting of EU environment ministers in March, he said.

According to the report, PM10 in UK air derives from "primary" particles emitted directly from vehicle exhausts, coal burning and industry, but also from "secondary" particles. These are formed by chemical reactions of gases in the air, and come mainly from long-range transport from the continent and from UK power stations.

National modelling at urban "background" sites, away from "hot spots" such as busy roads, show widespread exceedence of an existing national objective for PM10. This is 50 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) measured as a running 24-hour mean, with four exceedences allowed per year. Exceedences are worst in years characterised by frequent air movements from continental Europe, the report shows.

In a linked development, the government today unveiled a review of a national air quality strategy launched in 1997, which set objectives for eight pollutants to be achieved by 2005, including PM10 (ENDS Daily 12 March 1997).

Though deadlines for achieving the targets are to be brought forward for several pollutants, and strengthened in some cases, the government has proposed to relax its objective for PM10 pollution in the light of the particles report. The objective is to be downgraded to "indicative" status, though tougher "firm objectives" are to be introduced in time to comply with the EU air quality directive setting air quality limits on sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead and PM10.

For the other pollutants covered by the directive, the government is now planning at least to meet the EU standards as agreed last year by the Council of Ministers and in some cases to exceed them. For lead, it is proposing to meet the 0.5 ug/m3 standard in the directive by 1 January 2005, but then to cut the national limit to 0.25 ug/m3 by the end of 2008.

Existing objectives for benzene, 1,3-butadiene and carbon monoxide have been maintained, but deadlines have been brought forwards by two years. For ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide, the objectives remain unchanged.

Follow Up:
UK environment ministry, tel: +44 171 890 3000. References: The "Report of Airborne Particles Expert Group" and the review of the national air quality strategy are both available in full on the ministry's web site.

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