Smog causes 84,000 premature deaths annually in Italy

The Colosseum, Italy's most visited tourist attraction, shows visible signs of pollution prior to an extensive cleaning process being carried out. [John Fischer/Flickr]

The European Commission is ready to proceed with infringement procedures against Italy on account of its dire smog problem. EURACTIV Italy reports.

According to European Commission sources, Rome is set to find itself in the crosshairs of the executive due to its failure to reduce smog, in particular fine particles, in its largest cities.

Brussels first took Italy to task back in July 2014, when it launched an infringement procedure based on evidence that 19 zones and areas had smog levels that were far too high. Another procedure was concluded in 2012, when the European Court of Justice ruled against Italy in regard to PM10 levels recorded in 2006 and 2007 in 55 different zones.

At the end of 2015, Italy had exceeded the limits indicated by the EU’s directive on air quality and the acceptable levels of particulates allowed in much of the Po Valley, Rome and Naples. The annual average limit is 40 micrograms per cubic metre and the daily limit is set at 50.

In these areas, “the maximum limit of 50 micrograms per cubic metre had been exceeded for 100 days, more than triple the 35 days that are allowed,” explained the Commission sources.

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Brussels is therefore ready to proceed to stage two of the infringement procedure, the reasoned opinion, which could then be passed on to the European Court of Justice.

The case has been somewhat delayed, due to the fact that pollution data from 2014 was not submitted by the 30 September deadline. Furthermore, Italy had not even provided the same data for 2013. Only on 30 November 2015 did Rome provide all the necessary information for both years.

Should the Commission not be satisfied that Italy has taken the necessary measures to combat smog levels, it could refer the case to the ECJ. The Mediterranean nation could then face a fine of some €1 billion. This figure is based on three factors: the country’s weighted coefficient, which is high for countries such as Italy; the coefficient duration (for Italy this would be 10 years, given that the air quality directive became binding in 2005); and, finally, seriousness of the coefficient, which would be the maximum possible, as the violations threaten public health.  

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Italy now finds itself in the same boat as Bulgaria and Poland, two member states whose cases were referred to the ECJ on the 18 June and 10 December, respectively. Even though Italy may rank behind those two countries in terms of the number of days exceeded per day, their situation is the worst in Europe in terms of premature deaths attributable to PM10 and nitrogen oxide exposure.

The European Environment Agency ranks Italy top of this particular list, with 84,000 premature deaths recorded per year. The Commission sources also added that “the levels of exposure are incompatible with the right to health protection, which is the first objective of the air quality directive”.


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