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NGOs call for EU air quality limit values to be enforced by the European Commission

To: Mr. Janez Potočnik, EU Commissioner for Environment;

Catherine Day, Secretary-General of the European Commission;

Karl Falkenberg, Director General for Environment

Brussels, 23 April 2012

Dear Commissioner Potočnik,

We are writing to you on behalf of over 200 European citizens’ organisations from across the EU to ask you to take immediate action against those Member States who are breaching their obligations to comply with the EU’s ambient air quality legislation.

Why the enforcement of EU limit values matters

Although emissions of air pollutants have fallen over the past twenty years, the quality of the air we breathe has not significantly improved. Concentrations of ozone and particulate matter (PM), both very dangerous to human health, remain very high, having a significant impact on health and well-being and leading to nearly half a million premature deaths each year in the EU 27 Member States(1).

In comparison with the WHO recommendations for ambient air quality, current EU limits are insufficient to protect people’s health, in particular when it comes to the concentrations of the smallest particles. The implementation of the WHO recommended limits for PM2.5 in 25 large European cities alone could provide savings of €31.5 billion annually, including savings on health expenditures, absenteeism and intangible costs such as well-being, life expectancy and quality of life(2).

Still, EU legislation on ambient air continues to be breached, every day, in many places across the EU. More than seven years after the entry into force of PM10 limits, such breaches are simply unacceptable.

Member states’ notifications for a postponement of the NO2 limit value

The Ambient Air Quality Directive 2008/50/EC allows Member States to ask for a time extension to comply with the limits for some pollutants, under certain conditions. We are very pleased with the decisions adopted so far by the European Commission, which reflect a thorough technical assessment of Member States’ notifications and a strict application of the conditions required for obtaining an extension.

We would like to encourage you to continue working in this direction, in particular with regards to NO2 notifications which are currently being assessed by your Directorate General. High concentrations of NO2 have been shown to have adverse impacts on human health, including damages to the lungs and increased risks of respiratory problems(3). We ask you to ensure that the derogations are limited to exceptional situations and only to those Member States who can demonstrate that they have taken all possible measures to comply with the limits. In particular, this should include evidence that a set of ambitious actions aimed at reducing traffic-related emissions in cities have been adopted(4).

Infringement actions against non-compliant countries

Every day that limit values are exceeded results in more costs for society. It diminishes the quality of the life and health of EU citizens. We therefore see no excuse for Member States to fail to comply with EU standards, especially as the health of EU citizens is at stake, and as those limits were negotiated and endorsed by Member States themselves more than ten years ago.

One of the most effective ways to put an end to this is by enforcing the EU air quality laws as soon as possible. As Commissioner for Environment, you have a vital role to play in making sure that those Member States who are in breach of the Directive are sent to the European Court of Justice without delay.

By doing this, you will stand firm for every European citizen’s right to clean air, regardless of where they live in Europe; be it Lisbon, London, or Ljubljana.

We count on your support.


Yours Sincerely,

Jeremy Wates
Secretary General, European Environmental Bureau


On behalf of:
European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL)
Transport and Environment (T&E)
Client Earth
European Respiratory Society (ERS)
European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients Associations (EFA)
Air Pollution & Climate Secretariat (AirClim), Sweden
Bond Beter Leefmilieu Vlaanderen (BBL), Belgium
Campaign for Clean Air in London, UK
Center for Environment and Health, Czech Republic
Clean Air Action Group, Hungary
Danish Ecocouncil, Denmark
Deutsche Umwelthilfe, Germany
Ecologistas en Acción, Spain
EU Umwelt Büro, Austria
Fédération Inter-Environnement Wallonie, Belgium
Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, Finland
France Nature Environnement, France
Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), Germany
Genitori Antismog, Italy
Ile de France Environnment, France
Institute for Sustainable Development, Slovenia
Legambiente, Italy
Milieu Defensie, the Netherlands
Natuur en Milieu, the Netherlands
Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), Germany
Society for Sustainable Living (SSL), Czech Republic
Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VCD), Germany
Zielone Mazowsze, Poland


(1) According to a recent study by the European Topic Centre on Air and Climate Change (ETC/ACC) on behalf of the European Environment Agency (EEA), pollution of fine particles is associated with more than 455,000 premature deaths every year in the EU’s 27 member states.

(2) See results of EU research project the project APHEKOM: http://www.aphekom.org/web/aphekom.org/home;jsessionid=196F85AD90D285D4755D72CAE82EE61

(3) WHO Air quality guidelines for particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide - Global update 2005 - Summary of risk assessment, Available at: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2006/WHO_SDE_PHE_OEH_06.02_eng.pdf

(4) For examples of successful measures which can contribute to reducing emissions from traffic, see EEB, T&E and AirClim publication “What can be done in our cities to decrease air pollution”, 2011: http://www.eeb.org/index.cfm/library/index.cfm?firstpublications=2&month=0&year=0&Publications=1

Last updated on 29 May 2012

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