The new EU air quality directive was approved on 14 April 2008, following an agreement reached by the Council and the Parliament at the end of 2007. The directive sets EU-wide limits on fine particle emissions (PM2.5) for the first time ever.
These microscopic particles, emitted mainly by cars and trucks, pose health risks due to their ability to pass unfiltered through the nose and mouth, penetrating deep into human lungs and bloodstreams, where they can cause potentially fatal respiratory and/or pulmonary diseases.
"Air pollution is serious," said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas's spokesperson Barbara Helfferich, adding that, according to studies, an average European lives eight months less as a result of fine particle matter in the air. "In more polluted areas of the EU, the figure goes up to 36 months," she said on 14 April 2008.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the directive's adoption was "a decisive step in tackling a major cause of environmental and health problems". He added that the new directive provides "ambitious but realistic standards for fine particle PM2.5 pollution" in the EU.
The directive obliges member states to reduce exposure to PM2.5 in urban areas by an average of 20% by 2020 based on 2010 levels, bringing the exposure levels below 20 micrograms/m3 by 2015. In other areas, the member states will need to respect the PM2.5 limit value set at 25 micrograms/m3 by as early as 2010 if possible - and at the latest by 2015.
In a statement annexed to the directive, the Commission announces a number of new legislative proposals it plans to put forward in 2008 for ever improved air quality. These include further reduction of the member states' permitted national emissions of key pollutants, reduction of emissions asociated with refuelling of petrol cars at service stations, and addressing the sulphur content of fuels, including marine fuels.
The Commission also notes that it is currently studying the feasibility of improving the eco-design and reducing the emissions of domestic boilers and water heaters as well as reducing the solvent content of paints, varnishes and vehicle refinishing products.