MEPs put EU air quality proposal on track

Environment committee supports tight limits on benzene, carbon monoxide, limited derogations

A proposed directive that would for the first time set EU-wide legally binding limits on a carcinogenic pollutant took a step along the path to becoming law yesterday when the European Parliament's environment committee endorsed a European Commission proposal to control levels of benzene and carbon monoxide (CO) in ambient air. The draft law is the second daughter directive to be put forward under the 1996 air quality framework directive (ENDS Daily 2 December 1998). In it, the Commission proposes ambient air limits of 5 micrograms per cubic metre (5ug/m3) for benzene and 10 milligrams per cubic metre for CO, both to be achieved by 2010. The proposal for benzene marks the first EU attempt to set air quality limits for a carcinogen. Industry groups have opposed the limit, arguing that a full cost-benefit analysis of the proposal does not warrant the enormous expense that they predict it would make necessary in southern EU countries. Instead, industry is advocating a benzene limit of 10 ug/m3. Members of the Parliament's environment committee disagreed on some other elements of the draft directive. In particular, MEPs were split over whether congested urban areas requiring heavy investment to meet the targets should be allowed indefinite derogation periods from the limits. A proposal to remove any exemptions from the law in member states was defeated by a single vote. MEPs later voted narrowly to limit the derogations to a single period of a maximum of five years.

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