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Commission welcomes final adoption of the air quality directive

The European Commission welcomed the adoption of the directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe. The directive mirrors closely the Commission proposal of September 2005 and demonstrates the European Union’s strong commitment to improving air quality in the EU by setting binding standards for fine particles PM2.5.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "The European Union has today taken a decisive step in tackling a major cause of environmental and health problems. European citizens are concerned about air pollution. The new directive on air quality addresses this concern by providing ambitious but realistic standards for fine particle PM2.5 pollution in the European Union."

Setting standards for reducing concentrations of fine particles

The directive agreed merges four directives and one Council decision into a single directive on air quality. It sets standards and target dates for reducing concentrations of fine particles, which together with coarser particles known as PM10 already subject to legislation, are among the most dangerous pollutants for human health.

Under the directive Member States are required to reduce exposure to PM2.5 in urban areas by an average of 20% by 2020 based on 2010 levels. It obliges them to bring exposure levels below 20 micrograms/m3 by 2015 in these areas. Throughout their territory Member States will need to respect the PM2.5 limit value set at 25 micrograms/m3. This value must be achieved by 2015 or, where possible, already by 2010.

Giving greater flexibility for meeting air quality standards

The new directive introduces new objectives for fine particles PM2.5 but does not change existing air quality standards. It does, however, give Member States greater flexibility in meeting some of these standards in areas where they have difficulty complying. Meeting PM10 limit values is proving challenging for 25 of the 27 EU Member States which are exceeding these limits in at least one part of their territory.

The deadlines for complying with the PM10 standards can be postponed for three years after the directive’s entry into force (mid-2011) or by a maximum period of five years for nitrogen dioxide and benzene (2010-2015) provided that the relevant EU legislation such as industrial pollution prevention and control is fully implemented, and that all appropriate abatement measures are being taken. The directive provides a list of measures that need to be considered.