European Interest

Air quality: Standards needed for all air pollutants with health impacts, say MEPs

flickr/君勇 林/CC BY 2.0

Environment Committee MEPs voted to request better enforcement of current air quality standards and to call for new standards for non-regulated pollutants.

On Thursday, the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety adopted their report on the implementation of the Ambient Air Quality (AAQ) Directives with 43 votes for, 33 against and 3 abstentions.                                                                                     The resolution says that the EU clean air policy has been successful in driving down emissions and concentrations of most air pollutants in Europe, and the AAQ Directives have been effective in setting common EU air quality standards. At the same time, they have been only partially effective in reducing air pollution and curbing its adverse effects on health, quality of life, and the environment. It also highlights that a high number of member states still do not fully comply with current air quality standards in spite of the start of infringement proceedings by the Commission and court orders demanding compliance with the AAQ Directives.                                                                                                 MEPs call on member states and the Commission to better enforce already existing standards and welcome the commitment in the European Green Deal to revise air quality standards. A careful assessment of new WHO standards is needed in order to decide whether to align EU air quality standards with those of the WHO.                                                   According to MEPs, revised air quality standards should also cover other non-regulated pollutants with demonstrated negative health and environment impacts in the EU, such as ultrafine particles, black carbon, mercury, and ammonia. They also call on the Commission to establish a watch list addressing substances or compounds of concern to the public or the scientific community on grounds of health, such as microplastics.                          They also stress the need to guarantee that air quality is being measured in appropriate locations and at emissions sources in order to ensure correct estimation of air pollution, and call on improving public information and awareness on air pollution.

After the vote, rapporteur Javi LÓPEZ (SD, ES) said: “The AAQ Directives have been only partially effective in their objectives. We are therefore asking the Commission to increase ambition in the upcoming revision of the Directives in 2022 with more effective enforcement, improvement of the representativeness and transparency of our monitoring network, and revised EU air quality standards in line with the WHO guidelines and the latest scientific advice. We should bear in mind that air pollution causes approximately 400,000 premature deaths per year in Europe, and it has devastating effects on the environment. The EU cannot remain impassive towards this threat.”

The report is scheduled to be voted on at the Plenary session 24 – 25 March 2021.

In November 2019, the Commission published its fitness check on the AAQ Directives. It showed that they have been partially effective in achieving their overall objectives of reducing air pollution and curbing its adverse effects, but that there are still breaches of EU air quality standards with significant impacts on human health and the environment. Air pollution is still the number one environmental health risk both in the EU and globally.           The Commission has announced a zero pollution action plan for water, air, and soil, as part of the European Green Deal, to be published in May 2021.

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