Air quality ruling is tip of the iceberg

The EEB welcomes today’s ECJ judgement on Bulgaria’s illegal air. [1] The ruling sends a warning signal to at least 18 other countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, that are currently failing to ensure their citizens breathe clean and healthy air. [2]

The EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directive sets limits for the maximum concentration of dangerous pollutants in the air across Europe. These limits are designed to reduce the harmful impact of air pollution on our health and the environment but are being breached in more than 130 cities in 23 of the 28 EU Member States.

The ruling is the first to find that a Member State not only failed to meet the limits, but also failed to take action quickly enough to improve the situation. Bulgaria will now be forced to take immediate action to improve air quality. Failure to do so could lead to further action and the imposition of financial penalties.

Today’s judgement concerns particulate matter (tiny, harmful particles of toxic dust). Future cases also involve this very harmful pollutant, or are related to nitrogen oxide (NO2).

Particulate matter (PM) causes respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, atherosclerosis (thickening of the arteries), diabetes, adverse birth outcomes, impacts on the development of children’s brains and nervous systems. PM is also linked to respiratory infections and asthma in young children. PM pollution alone is estimated to cause around 400,000 premature deaths across the EU each year, and over 11,000 premature deaths in Bulgaria alone.

Louise Duprez, EEB Senior Policy Officer said:

“Today’s judgement is good news for people all over Europe. As further cases come before the court, the true extent of Europe’s problem with illegal air will be exposed and countries will finally have to take action to improve their air. It’s a scandal that national governments are failing to take even the minimum action required by EU law.”

Notes to editors: 

[1] European Court of Justice Judgement

[2] Countries currently facing Commission action on breaches of air quality limits: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

For more information:

Anton Lazarus, Communications Officer, European Environmental Bureau

+32 2 790 88 18