Draft EU ozone controls nearing completion

Second daughter directive under air quality framework law to be completed by next spring

The European Commission's environment directorate (DGXI) is putting the finishing touches to a set of proposals aimed at tackling smog caused by tropospheric ozone. Following a meeting with industry, environmental groups and national experts on Thursday and Friday, the main elements of the strategy are now in place. DGXI hopes to draft the proposals by the end of next month, for formal adoption by next April.

The existing 1992 directive on low-level ozone requires the Commission to propose revised, stricter rules by March 1998. The proposal is also envisaged under the 1996 framework directive on air quality, which last month gave birth to a "daughter directive" on sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulates and lead (ENDS Daily 8 October).

As with the first daughter directive, DGXI is basing ozone air quality standards on new World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines - which set an 8 hour limit value for ozone of 120 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3). An official told ENDS Daily that the Commission was likely to accept this figure as a long term objective, but would not set an attainment date. "Even applying best available technology won't be enough to meet these levels all over Europe," he said.

DGXI is therefore proposing to set the same limit value as an interim target for 2010, but to allow a number of exceedences. These exceedences would progressively be reduced using the "gap closure" concept pioneered in the Commission's acidification strategy (ENDS Daily 13 March).

Environmental groups - such as the Brussels-based European Environmental Bureau (EEB) - have criticised DGXI for adopting guidelines which even the WHO admits do not prevent adverse health effects. The EEB would like to see the Commission propose a much stricter target nearer 80 ug/m3.

However, industry groups are concerned that DGXI's proposals are too strict. The European employers' association, UNICE, claims that 120 ug/m3, although only marginally tighter than current guide values, is "significantly lower than any other standard being applied anywhere in the world" and would cost EU industry over Ecu400 billion to meet.

As well as revised limit values, the Commission is also drawing up a separate strategy to tackle the problem of ozone pollution. A Commission official told ENDS Daily that as part of this strategy, the Commission would be proposing national emissions ceilings for the two major pollutants that contribute to ozone problems - NOx and VOCs. Proposed limits are expected in the second half of next year.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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