Air quality standards needed for all air pollutants that affect health, say MEPs 

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Plenary session 
 
 
  • Pollutants such as ultrafine particles, black carbon, mercury, and ammonia must also be regulated 
  • A watch list addressing substances or compounds of concern on grounds of health must be set-up 
  • Air pollution causes more than 400,000 premature deaths in Europe per year 

Parliament voted to request better enforcement of current air quality standards and called for new standards for non-regulated pollutants that affect health.

On Thursday, Parliament adopted a resolution on the implementation of the Ambient Air Quality (AAQ) Directives with 425 votes for, 109 against and 153 abstentions.

The resolution reminds that air pollution is still the number one environmental health risk both in the EU and globally. While 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, they have been only partially effective in reducing air pollution and curbing its adverse effects on health, quality of life, and the environment.

MEPs also highlight that many 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. They therefore call on member states and the Commission to enforce already existing standards.

All pollutants with health impacts must be covered

MEPs welcome the commitment in the European Green Deal to revise the air quality standards and underline the need to cover all non-regulated pollutants that are proven to have a negative impact on health and the environment 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.

Finally, they stress the need to guarantee that air quality is being measured in appropriate locations in order to ensure correct estimation of air pollution, and call on improving public information and awareness on air pollution.

Quote

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.”

Background

The Commission fitness check of the AAQ Directives showed that they have been partially effective in achieving their overall objectives of reducing air pollution and curbing its adverse effects, but that EU air quality standards are still being breached, with a significant impact on human health and the environment.

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.