Green light for new European rules on air quality: from fine particles to the right to compensation, this is what will change

“Healthier for you, better for the environment!”, wrote the Belgian rotating presidency of the Council of the EU on social networks, announcing the agreement reached by the Brussels institutions on the new air quality directive . Among the main innovations of the text, which is part of the “Zero Pollution” package developed by Ursula von der Leyen's team, are stricter limits for pollutants. In particular, the new rules approved by the Twenty-Seven and the European Parliament to reduce smog – responsible for 300,000 deaths per year in Europe – provide for a decisive tightening of the levels of the most harmful pollutants, namely fine particles PM2, 5. , PM10 and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), as well as the right to compensation for citizens.

What the agreement provides

With regard to the pollutants most harmful to human health – PM2.5 and NO2 – the annual limit values ​​will have to be reduced by more than half, from the current 25 to 10 micrograms per cubic meter and from 40 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter. cubic meter. meter respectively, with the aim of reducing the number of premature deaths caused by fine particles by at least 55%. The agreement comes at a time when in Italy – in the North in particular – the alert on the terrible air quality is increasing. The Po Valley, in the words of the president of Legambiente Lombardia, has reached “the peak of a pollution crisis” with smog levels that have not been reached since 2017. In fact, since mid-February, Arpa's control units record the values ​​of PM 2.5 and PM 10, the so-called “fine particles”, well beyond the limits authorized by Italian law and more than four times those considered safe by the WHO.

“Clear, comparable and accessible” air quality indices

Member countries also established the need to make air quality indices, currently fragmented across Europe, “comparable, clear and accessible” to the public, providing information on symptoms associated with smog peaks and on the health risks linked to each pollutant. Air quality standards will also be re-analyzed by December 31, 2030, then at least every five years, more often if new scientific data requires it, for example that of the WHO. The governments of the 27 will have to draw up air quality plans if they exceed the imposed limits and develop detailed air quality roadmaps by December 31, 2028, which set out short-term measures. and in the long term to respect the new limit values ​​by 2030. However, member countries will be able to request a postponement from 2030 for up to 10 years, if certain specific conditions are guaranteed. The agreement reached in Brussels includes the right to compensation for citizens. Specifically, those who suffer damage to their health due to air pollution will be able to be compensated if national governments violate EU regulations.

Cover photo: ANSA/DANIEL DAL ZENNARO | Smog in Milan

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