Italian air quality standards toughened

Ronchi sets strict limit on benzene, launches sustainability competition for Italian cities

Italy's environment minister, Edo Ronchi, has announced new measures to combat pollution in cities by introducing tougher air quality limits. A new government decree establishing a benzene limit of 10 micrograms per cubic metre in all cities with a population of over 150,000 will come into force on 1 January 1999.

The limit will also apply to smaller towns that attract large numbers of visitors during the tourist season and in areas at high risk of pollution. By next May, city mayors will have to submit a report on urban air quality, with specific reference to benzene levels and sources of pollution.

"This decree is an important step out of an emergency approach and into more long-term, structural planning," said Mr Ronchi. He stressed that under the new decree mayors will have a wide range of opportunities, such as promoting low-emission vehicles, pedestrianising areas, opening cycling paths, limiting car traffic to ensure that the air quality in their city remains within the legal limits. At the end of each year, mayors will draft a report on air quality and by February a plan will have to indicate the measures they intend to take to reduce pollution. Plans can be revised during the year to adapt to changing situations.

In the most severe cases of pollution, the minister specified, the circulation of motor scooters that do not comply with EU emissions standards can also be prohibited. This could be particularly significant for cities like Florence, where an estimated 41% of benzene emissions are attributed to scooters. The minister has also earmarked IL9.5bn (Ecu4.9m) to promote the purchase of 20,000 electric scooters and bicycles. Another IL8.5bn will go towards car sharing initiatives.

In an effort to promote the adoption of Agenda 21 programmes all over the country, Mr Ronchi has also announced the award of an annual sustainability prize. All Italian cities with over 30,000 citizens will have the opportunity to take part in initiative. The environmental performance of each city will be measured against factors including wastewater treatment facilities, solid waste collection and recycling rates, number and size of parks, air quality, noise pollution, traffic control, and carbon dioxide emissions. There will be three winners, for small, medium and large-sized cities, with each to be awarded IL250m. Runners-up will win IL100m.

Follow Up:
Italian environment ministry, tel: +39 06 57221.

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