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Air Quality Standards

Humans can be adversely affected by exposure to air pollutants in ambient air. In response, the European Union has developed an extensive body of legislation which establishes health based standards and objectives for a number of pollutants present in the air. These standards and objectives are summarised in the table below. These apply over differing periods of time because the observed health impacts associated with the various pollutants occur over different exposure times.

Pollutant

Concentration

Averaging period

Legal nature

Permitted exceedences each year

Fine particles (PM2.5)

25 µg/m3***

1 year

Target value entered into force 1.1.2010
Limit value enters into force 1.1.2015

n/a

Sulphur dioxide (SO2)

350 µg/m3

1 hour

Limit value entered into force 1.1.2005

24

125 µg/m3

24 hours

Limit value entered into force 1.1.2005

3

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)

200 µg/m3

1 hour

Limit value entered into force 1.1.2010

18

40 µg/m3

1 year

Limit value entered into force 1.1.2010*

n/a

PM10

50 µg/m3

24 hours

Limit value entered into force 1.1.2005**

35

40 µg/m3

1 year

Limit value entered into force 1.1.2005**

n/a

Lead (Pb)

0.5 µg/m3

1 year

Limit value entered into force 1.1.2005 (or 1.1.2010 in the immediate vicinity of specific, notified industrial sources; and a 1.0 µg/m3 limit value applied from 1.1.2005 to 31.12.2009)

n/a

Carbon monoxide (CO)

10 mg/m3

Maximum daily 8 hour mean

Limit value entered into force 1.1.2005

n/a

Benzene

5 µg/m3

1 year

Limit value entered into force 1.1.2010**

n/a

Ozone

120 µg/m3

Maximum daily 8 hour mean

Target value entered into force 1.1.2010

25 days averaged over 3 years

Arsenic (As)

6 ng/m3

1 year

Target value enters into force 31.12.2012

n/a

Cadmium (Cd)

5 ng/m3

1 year

Target value enters into force 31.12.2012

n/a

Nickel (Ni)

20 ng/m3

1 year

Target value enters into force 31.12.2012

n/a

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

1 ng/m3
(expressed as concentration of Benzo(a)pyrene)

1 year

Target value enters into force 31.12.2012

n/a

*Under Directive 2008/50/EU, the Member State can apply for an extension of up to five years (i.e. maximum up to 2015) in a specific zone. The request is subject to an assessment by the Commission. In such cases within the time extension period the limit value applies at the level of the limit value + maximum margin of tolerance ( 48 µg/m3 for annual NO2 limit value).

**Under Directive 2008/50/EU, the Member State was able to apply for an extension until three years after the date of entry into force of the new Directive (i.e. May 2011) in a specific zone. The request was subject to assessment by the Commission. In such cases within the time extension period the limit value applies at the level of the limit value + maximum margin of tolerance (35 days at 75µg/m3 for daily PM10 limit value, 48 µg/m3 for annual Pm10 limit value).

***Standard introduced by Directive.

 

Under EU law a limit value is legally binding from the date it enters into force subject to any exceedances permitted by the legislation. For a target value the obligation is to take all necessary measures not entailing disproportionate costs to ensure that it is attained, and so it is less strict than a limit value.

Directive 2008/50/EC introduced additional PM2.5 objectives targeting the exposure of the population to fine particles. These objectives are set at national level and are based on the average exposure indicator (AEI). This is determined as a 3-year running annual mean PM2.5 concentration averaged over the selected monitoring stations in agglomerations and larger urban areas, set in urban background locations to best assess the PM2.5 exposure of the general population.

Title

Metric

Averaging period

Legal nature

Permitted exceedences each year

PM2.5
Exposure concentration obligation

20 µg/m3
(AEI)

Based on 3 year average

Legally binding in 2015 (years 2013,2014,2015)

n/a

PM2.5
Exposure reduction target

Percentage reduction*
+ all measures to reach 18 µg/m3
(AEI)

Based on 3 year average

Reduction to be attained where possible in 2020, determined on the basis of the value of exposure indicator in 2010

n/a

* Depending on the value of AEI in 2010, a percentage reduction requirement ( 0,10,15, or 20%) is set in the Directive. If AEI in 2010 is assessed to be over 22 µg/m3, all appropriate measures need to be taken to achieve 18 µg/m3 by 2020.