EC steps up pressure over plan for London air pollution

The European Commission has told the UK government and the Mayor of London to urgently implement a plan for dealing with air pollution ’hotspots’ in London.

The decision to grant a ’temporary, conditional time extension’ for meeting limits for the concentration of dangerous airborne particles (PM10) in the capital’s air places pressure on the UK government and the Mayor of London to address poor air quality in the city.

Legally binding limits on the concentration of PM10, a dangerous air pollutant causing heart and lung disease, should have been met by 2005. The UK’s failure to comply with these limits has led to the start of legal action against the government by the European Commission and could result in large fines for the UK.

A recent study by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) estimated that airborne particles contributed to up to 200,000 premature deaths a year.

James Grugeon, Environmental Protection UK chief executive, said: ’The European Commission is sending a strong message to the Mayor of London and the UK government to deal with dangerous air pollution. But let’s remember that this is not simply an issue of compliance with European regulations, it’s about one of the most harmful pollutants in the air we breathe and how this affects our health.’

The European Commission has also decided to freeze, rather than scrap, any legal action against the UK. This means that in the event the UK fails to comply with air pollution limits by a new 2011 deadline, legal action can be resumed and the UK referred directly to the European Court of Justice.