EEB welcomes European Commission action on illegal air

The EEB welcomes today’s announcement that the European Commission will pursue infringement proceedings against France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK for having failed to protect their citizens’ health against dangerous levels of air pollution.

The five countries are consistently failing to ensure that air quality in their major cities meets the requirements set in European law. As a result, their citizens have been left to breathe ‘illegal air’.

Exposure to high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) increases the likelihood of air pollution-related problems such as wheezing, coughing, bronchitis and lung infection. Children with asthma and older people with heart disease are particularly vulnerable to NO2 air pollution. Today’s announcement follows years of limits being breached by the five Member States concerned.

Louise Duprez, EEB Senior Policy Officer on Air Pollution said:

“What the European Commission is doing today is essential. EU air pollution laws are designed to protect our health. There’s no excuse for countries that fail to implement these laws properly. Children growing up in urban areas deserve better than to be forced to inhale toxic fumes known to cause bronchitis, asthma and other conditions. People all over Europe will welcome the European Commission’s action on this issue.”

The infringement proceedings come just weeks after the EU finally agreed new emission limits in the NEC Directive. An EEB report published today shows how these new limits are expected to help countries like France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK reduce their overall levels of pollution. The report argues that 78,000 additional lives could be saved by the new rules if fully implemented. However, the role of the European Commission will again be essential in ensuring that Member States implement and enforce EU legislation in this field.


Notes to editors:

There are two crucial EU Directives on air pollution. The Ambient Air Quality Directive set limits for the concentration of certain pollutants in the air we breathe, in any given place. The National Emission Ceiling Directive sets caps, or ‘ceilings’, for the total amounts of certain pollutants to be emitted by each Member State from all land sources combined.

Ambient Air Quality Directive

Today’s infringement concerns breached NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) maximum concentrations set in the Ambient Air Quality Directive. It is the last step before referral to the European Court of Justice.

The limits set in the Ambient Air Quality Directive are currently being exceeded in more than 130 cities in 23 out of the 28 Member States of the EU. Road transport, and in particular diesel fumes, is a main cause of NO2 concentrations.

National Emission Ceilings Directive

An updated National Emission Ceilings Directive was adopted in December 2016.

In a new report ‘Clearing the Air: A Critical Guide to the National Emission Ceilings Directive’, launched today, the EEB calls on Member States and the European Commission to fully and effectively implement existing air pollution laws and take further steps to protect human health and the environment.

Clearing the Air - A Critical Guide to the new NEC Directive


For more information:

Anton Lazarus, Communication Officer, European Environmental Bureau

+32 2 790 88 18

EEB welcomes European Commission action on illegal air
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