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European Commission to pursue legal action against UK for air pollution

The European Commission [official website] announced Thursday that it would pursue legal action [press release] against the UK for its failure to comply with EU air quality standards. The Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe [Directive 2008/50/EC materials] limits the concentrations of certain air pollutants, such as harmful airborne particulates called PM10, and requires action from member states to reduce pollution. The air quality directive also allows for member states to seek extensions to meet the standards where effort and extenuating external circumstances are demonstrated. The commission issued its final warning to the UK due to high levels of PM10 in London and Gibraltar that exceed the limits set by the directive. European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potocnik [official website] said:

Air pollution is bad for our health. It reduces human life expectancy by more than eight months on average and by more than two years in the most polluted cities and regions. Member States must comply with EU air quality standards quickly and reduce air pollutant emissions.
The Commission may refer the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] if the UK fails take the necessary measures to comply with the air quality directive.

The commission first warned [JURIST report] member states, including the UK, for failing to comply with the heightened PM10 standards in January 2009. The commission rejected the UK's request for an exemption of the Greater London Area because it failed to show that it would reach the PM10 limit value by 2011. British authorities have recently submitted an additional exemption request for Greater London, which is still under assessment. The carcinogenic PM10 [EPA backgrounder] particles are emitted primarily by automobiles, industrial sources, and domestic heating systems. The European Commission, which is responsible for ensuring that EU law is applied throughout all member states and for taking legal action [JURIST report] against infringers, has led the charge for tightened environmental standards, including a 2007 proposal for all EU Member States to criminalize [JURIST report] serious environmental offenses and impose minimum sanctions for violations.

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