The EU this month decided to refer Belgium and Bulgaria to the European Court of Justice over breach of air quality standards. Sweden has been warned that it too may be referred to the Court.

PM 10

These proceedings relate to emissions of PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter) for which limits were set in 2005. The associated risks arising from such emissions relate to public health (said to be respiratory issues, lung cancer and premature deaths). Emissions of PM 10 are said to come primarily from transport, industry and domestic heating. 

Of course Belgium and Bulgaria are not alone in terms of non-compliance. There are currently 14 other EU Member States who are said to be infringing the air quality standards and some of these may subsequently also be referred to the European Court of Justice.

PM 10 - Belgium and Bulgaria

In the case of PM 10 emissions in Belgium, the EU Commission recognised improvements in recent years but 3 zones (Brussels, Ghent Port and Roeselare Port) continued to fail. 

In the case of Bulgarian PM 10 emissions, again a number of reductions in emissions were recognised but persistent non-compliance was otherwise said to be the case in this country’s 6 zones and agglomerations.

PM 10 - Sweden

Sweden has been taking measures but is alleged to be infringing daily maximum limits in two zones (Middle Sweden and Stockholm). The EU Commission has sent a reasoned opinion to Sweden to take and accelerate effective action. If this does not materialise, there is a prospect that the EU Commission will commence proceedings in the European Court against Sweden.

See here for more details. 


Another pollutant of concern in terms of public health, namely NO2 (said to be a carcinogenic pollutant), is also in the spotlight. This pollutant, which is said to arise primarily from traffic and diesel cars in particular, is the subject of current infringement proceedings against 17 EU Member States, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.

Other stakeholders – other proceedings

It is apparent that as health related studies increase the concern over reported public health impacts from these emissions, closer scrutiny in terms of policy and law will arise over inaction or ineffective action by Governments and other public bodies to combat the impacts on air quality.

The proceedings referred to here are proceedings against Member States. Of course there are many other stakeholders and many of these may wish to watch this space very closely and in particular in terms of civil law actions for personal injury.