How tight should the air pollution laws be? There is a lot of argument and concern not only over health issues but over costs and technical limits. With an overhaul of air quality laws due within a year in Europe, health advocates are calling for the European Commission to resist pressure to tone down the EU’s pollution standards and instead replace them with stronger UN guidelines. The call for tougher anti-pollution measures came two days after a report by the European Environment Agency showed that nearly one-third of urban residents breathe air that is far dirtier than the law allows. The tally rises to well over 80% when the recommendations of the UN World Heath Organization are applied.
"If we are serious about health, we have to apply these [WHO] standards," Anne Stauffer, deputy director of the Brussels-based Health and Environment Alliance, told EurActiv. WHO is the World Health Organization who have established world health based standards for sir quality.
"We know and see that air pollution continues to be a massive problem for the health of individuals and for our economies, and we think that the MEPs need to strengthen the guidelines and should reject attempts to weaken them," Stauffer told a European Parliament hearing on air quality.
The European Commission is to present revisions to the EU’s 2008 air quality directive in 2013 - designated "The Year of Air" by the EU executive. Air quality is expected to be among the priorities for Ireland when it takes over the rotating European Council presidency on 1 January 2013.
EEA’s report shows that nearly one-third of European urbanites breathe high levels of particulate matter - or smoke, dirt, dust, and toxic vehicle and industrial exhaust - and 17% are exposed to high levels of ozone, ground-level pollutants that causes smog.
Under the WHO guidelines, 80% of EU urban residents inhale particulate matter and 97% ozone at levels that can lead to respiratory and heart problems.
But any talk of tougher pollution guidelines may seem meaningless given the record of compliance with the existing measures. Some 20 countries have been accused of failing to implement or enforce the present air quality directives.
The Commission in recent months has filed against Poland, Slovenia, Italy, and Portugal.
Some of Europe’s most industrially productive regions have called for more flexibility in enforcing pollution rules at the risk of putting the brake on economic growth.
The argument over air quality standards occurs in every country for the same reasons of economy versus health. Both sides argue the technical limits in terms that work towards favoring their own set of standards.
For further information see New Europe Air Rules.
30 September, 2012.