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Air Quality - Existing Legislation

A substantial body of Community legislation has been adopted by the Council and the European Parliament in relation to ambient air quality. This is summarised below and links provided lead to the relevant documents.

New Air quality directive

The new Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe entered into force on 11 June 2008.

Commission press release upon adoption by Council on 14 April 2008

This new Directive includes the following key elements:

  • The merging of most of existing legislation into a single directive (except for the fourth daughter directive) with no change to existing air quality objectives*
  • New air quality objectives for PM2.5 (fine particles) including the limit value and exposure related objetives – exposure concentration obligation and exposure reduction target
  • The possibility to discount natural sources of pollution when assessing compliance against limit values
  • The possibility for time extensions of three years (PM10) or up to five years (NO2, benzene) for complying with limit values, based on conditions and the assessment by the European Commission.

* Framework Directive 96/62/EC, 1-3 daughter Directives 1999/30/EC, 2000/69/EC, 2002/3/EC, and Decision on Exchange of Information 97/101/EC.

Adoption procedure :

The Commission adopted a proposal for a directive on ambient air quality at the same time as it adopted the thematic strategy on air pollution.

The progress of this legislative file through the co-decision can be followed at the following link.

The Member States have 2 years to transpose the new Directive, until then the existing legislation applies. Some provisions of the new Directive such as PM2.5 monitoring requirements have to be implemented sooner. It is expected that the provision enabling notifications of postponements or exemptions in respect of the limit values for PM10, NO2 or benzene will be applied before the end of the 2 year transposition deadline.

Other Legislation

1. Council Directive 96/62/EC on ambient air quality assessment and management is commonly referred to as the Air Quality Framework Directive. It describes the basic principles as to how air quality should be assessed and managed in the Member States. It lists the pollutants for which air quality standards and objectives will be developed and specified in legislation.

2. Council Directive 1999/30/EC relating to limit values for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead in ambient air. The directive was is the so-called "First Daughter Directive". The directive describes the numerical limits and thresholds required to assess and manage air quality for the pollutants mentioned. It addresses both PM10 and PM2.5 but only establishes monitoring requirements for fine particles.

3. Directive 2000/69/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council relating to limit values for benzene and carbon monoxide in ambient air. This was the Second Daughter Directive and established the numerical criteria relating to the assessment and management of benzene and carbon monoxide in air.

4. Directive 2002/3/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council relating to ozone in ambient air. This was the Third Daughter Directive and established target values and long term objectives for the concentration of ozone in air. Ozone is a secondary pollutant formed in the atmosphere by the chemical reaction of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides ion the presence of sunlight. As such the directive also describes certain monitoring requirements relating to volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides in air.

5. Directive 2004/107/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council relating to arsenic, cadmium, mercury, nickel and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient air. This is the Fourth Daughter Directive and completes the list of pollutants initially described in the Framework Directive. Target values for all pollutants except mercury are defined for the listed substances, though for PAHs, the target is defined in terms of concentration of benzo(a)pyrene which is used as a marker substance for PAHs generally. Only monitoring requirements are specified for mercury.

6. Council Decision 97/101/EC establishing a reciprocal exchange of information and data from networks and individual stations measuring ambient air pollution within the Member States. This "EoI Decision" describes the procedures for the dissemination of air quality monitoring information by the Member States to the Commission and to the public.

7. Commission Decision 2004/461/EC laying down a questionnaire for annual reporting on ambient air quality assessment under Council Directives 96/62/EC and 1999/30/EC and under Directives 2000/69/EC and 2002/3/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council. This decision specifies the format and content of Member States' Annual Report on ambient air quality in their territories.

Important Case Law

The Commission welcomes the preliminary ruling and the recognition by the Court of Justice that individual citizens have the right under the air quality Directive (96/62/EC) to require national competent authorities to draw up a short term action plan with the aim of maintaining or achieving compliance with the air quality limit values.