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EU court finds Poland guilty of violating air quality norms

[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] on Thursday found [judgment] Poland guilty of violating EU air quality standards by persistently exceeding limits for "particulate matter" (PM10) concentrations during an eight-year period between 2007 and 2015 in as many as 35 different zones within Poland.

PM10 is composed of [press release] a mixture of organic and non-organic substances present in the air that may contain toxic substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals, dioxin and furan. It contains elements with a diameter of less than 10 micrometres which may enter the upper respiratory tract and the lungs. The EU law in question here is Directive 2008/50/EC [text, PDF] on Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air for Europe, which sets the above mentioned limits for the protection of human health.

The EU Commission (Commission) [official website] brought the action against Poland alleging that the Member State not only persistently exceeded the PM10 limits set by the directive but adopted no appropriate measures with respect to air quality programs to ensure compliance with those limits.

The ECJ agreed with the Commission on all of its allegations and concluded that Poland did in fact violate EU norms on air quality. In so concluding, the court rejected Poland's established timeline for complying with the PM10 thresholds as inadequate and further rejected Poland's argument concerning the the socio-economic and financial challenges facing the country to ensure faster and full compliance. The court added:

while such [socio-economic and financial challenges] may be taken into account in the context of the balancing exercise [of minimizing the risk of pollution and the various opposing public and private interests], the fact remains that it has not been established that the difficulties referred to by the Republic of Poland, which are not exceptional, are such as to rule out the possibility of having set shorter periods, especially since a large portion of the measures envisaged are connected with the replacement of individual and collective boilers by more efficient equipment. ... It follows that that argument of the Republic of Poland cannot, in itself, justify such long periods for putting an end to those exceedances in the light of the requirement seeking to ensure that the exceedance period is as short as possible. ... In the present case, first of all, the obligation to establish air quality plans, in the event of exceedances of the limit values for PM10 concentrations in ambient air, has been binding on the Member State concerned since 11 June 2010 ... exceedances of the limit values had already been recorded in Poland at that date.
Holding in favor of the Commission against Poland on all counts, the ECJ further ordered Poland to pay the costs of the litigation.

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