Despite EU laws which state countries must ensure good quality air for their citizens, ambient air quality is still poor in many EU member states. This situation is now so serious the European Commission is taking action against 17 member states which have consistently had bad air quality readings.
Bulgaria, Latvia and Slovenia are being urged to address the ongoing problem of air quality, which kills more citizens than road traffic accidents each year.
The problem lies with tiny particles called PM10s which are produced by road traffic, industrial activity and domestic heating. These fine particles can cause respiratory illnesses, lung cancer and premature death.
In the past the European Commission has successfully taken Sweden, Italy, Slovakia and Portugal to court for failing to provide good quality air. However, the court rulings only covered failure to comply with legislation in the past, providing little incentive for countries to comply in the future.
With this in mind, a new approach which widens the scope of possible legal action has been introduced. The Commission is urging member states to take quick, effective action that results in improvements in air quality as soon as possible.
Under EU law member states are required to take all measures necessary to ensure good air quality, and to make data available in air quality plans. Failure to comply with these laws will result in legal action. The full list of Member States concerned by PM10 exceedance is Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The action against Slovenia, Latvia and Bulgaria comes after similar steps were taken against Belgium in November 2012.