Tough stance on air quality derogations

European Commission objects to vast majority of requests for more time to comply with EU air quality legislation.

In December, three new decisions were taken by the European Commission concerning requests from Bulgaria, Poland and the United Kingdom for additional time to comply with EU legislation on air quality.

Temporary exemptions from the binding limit values for particulate matter (PM10) – that should have been met back in 2005 – had been requested for 97 zones in the three countries, and from the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limit value in one zone in Poland. The Commission approved time extensions for PM10 in five air quality zones in Poland but objected to all other requests.

In the remaining zones in Poland, as well as all zones in Bulgaria and the United Kingdom, the Commission considered that the conditions have not been met. In many cases, this is because insufficient data has been provided or because the measures outlined in the submitted air quality plans do not demonstrate that the standards will be met when the exemption period expires.

In some cases the Commission’s assessment showed that exemptions will not be necessary since compliance with the limit values has already been achieved. This was said to be the case for the United Kingdom, where all air quality zones except the Greater London zone were in compliance in 2008. However, the air quality plan for the Greater London area did not meet the conditions for a time extension, the Commission explained.

On 1 February the Commission rejected eleven out of twelve new Italian requests for more time to meet the PM10 limit values. Most of Italy’s earlier request for derogations had already been rejected last year. This time, however, an extension was approved for one zone in the region of Campania.

EU air quality legislation sets binding limit values and/or indicative target values for the maximum permitted concentrations of certain air pollutants. Action to reduce pollution through an air quality plan is required where there is a risk of these standards being exceeded.

There are two air quality limit values for particulate matter (PM10) based on daily average concentrations (50 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m³), not to be exceeded more than 35 times in a calendar year) and annual average concentrations (40 µg/m³). These entered into force on 1 January 2005.

Two limit values for nitrogen dioxide based on hourly and annual average concentrations entered into force on 1 January 2010. The hourly limit value is 200 µg/m³, not to be exceeded more than 18 times in a calendar year, and the annual average limit is 40 µg/m³.

The 2008 air quality directive allows member states to notify time extensions for meeting the air quality standards for PM10 (until 11 June 2011) and NO2 and benzene (until 2015 at the latest). During the time extension period, limit values continue to apply plus a margin of tolerance.

So far, twenty-one decisions on time extensions concerning 18 member states have been adopted, and according to the Commission conditions for an exemption from the PM10 limit values were satisfied in 49 air quality zones in Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. (See also Acid News No. 3, 2009.) In these cases, the Commission was satisfied that compliance will be achieved at the expiry of the time extension period through comprehensive air quality plans.

The conditions for a postponement of the NO2 limit values have also been accepted for nine zones in the Netherlands.

Legal proceedings are ongoing against ten member states for failing to comply with the PM10 limit values. In those countries the PM10 limit values continue to be exceeded, and either they have not submitted notifications or the Commission has already objected to requested time extensions.

Christer Ågren

For more information on time extensions:

For more information on limit values for pollutants:

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