EU: Air Quality Standards

Overview

The European Union established the current Ambient Air Quality and Clean Air for Europe Standards in 2008 under the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution (TSAP). These parameters are outlined below and are combined with the National Emission Ceilings Directive of 2001, with set limits for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.

Standard type
Ambient air quality standard

Regulating Body
European Union (European Commission, Parliament, Council, and Member States)

Applicability
Region-wide

History

The European Union (EU) has two overarching air quality policies: the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution (TSAP) of 2005 and the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD) of 2001. The TSAP, created under the 6th Environmental Action Program (6EAP), established air quality objectives with supporting policy measures spanning to 2020. Almost all of the interim objectives outlined in the agenda have since come into place, the most significant of which was the passing of the current standard, Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air for Europe (Directive 2008/50/EC) . The Directive fused most ambient air quality legislation into one policy without making any changes to the goals originally laid out within each.

The NECD (Directive 2001/81/EC) set total emission limits for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and ammonia (NH3), but allowed EU Member States some flexibility to determine how to achieve these limits. Amendments to the original 2001 NECD were made in 2006 and again in 2009 to include all 27 member-states, as well as European Commission comments, in an updated policy: Directive 2008/50/EC.

Plans were made to revise the NECD to align with TSAP’s 2020 objectives with the adoption of the TSAP in 2005. Revisions of the NECD were scheduled to take place in 2004, 2008, and 2012. However, expected revisions were delayed twice: first, in 2006, to wait for the Climate Change and Energy Package’s negotiations to be finalized, and a second time, in 2008, after the global economic crisis added to other implementation challenges.

Technical Standards

The EU’s ambient air quality standards are detailed in Directive 2008/50/EC and summarized on the European Commission’s Air Quality Standards page.

Ambient Air Quality Standards for the European Union

Pollutant Concentration Averaging period Legal nature Permitted exceedences each year
Fine particles (PM2.5) 25 µg/m3*** 1 year Target value entered into force 1.1.2010
Limit value enters into force 1.1.2015

n/a

Sulphur dioxide (SO2) 350 µg/m3 1 hour Limit value entered into force 1.1.2005

24

125 µg/m3 24 hours Limit value entered into force 1.1.2005

3

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) 200 µg/m3 1 hour Limit value entered into force 1.1.2010

18

40 µg/m3 1 year Limit value entered into force 1.1.2010*

n/a

PM10 50 µg/m3 24 hours Limit value entered into force 1.1.2005**

35

40 µg/m3 1 year Limit value entered into force 1.1.2005**

n/a

Lead (Pb) 0.5 µg/m3 1 year Limit value entered into force 1.1.2005 (or 1.1.2010 in the immediate vicinity of specific, notified industrial sources; and a 1.0 µg/m3 limit value applied from 1.1.2005 to 31.12.2009)

n/a

Carbon monoxide (CO) 10 mg/m3 Maximum daily 8 hour mean Limit value entered into force 1.1.2005

n/a

Benzene 5 µg/m3 1 year Limit value entered into force 1.1.2010**

n/a

Ozone 120 µg/m3 Maximum daily 8 hour mean Target value entered into force 1.1.2010

25 days averaged over 3 years

Arsenic (As) 6 ng/m3 1 year Target value enters into force 31.12.2012

n/a

Cadmium (C­d) 5 ng/m3 1 year Target value enters into force 31.12.2012

n/a

Nickel (Ni) 20 ng/m3 1 year Target value enters into force 31.12.2012

n/a

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons 1 ng/m3
(expressed as  concentration of Benzo(a)pyrene)
1 year Target value enters into force 31.12.2012

n/a

*Under the new Directive, the member State can apply for an extension of up to five years (i.e. maximum up to 2015) in a specific zone. Requests are subject to assessment by the Commission. In such cases within the time extension period, the limit value applies at the level of the limit value + maximum margin of tolerance (48 µg/m3 for annual NO2 limit value).

**Under the new Directive, the EU Member State was able to apply for an extension until three years after the date of entry into force of the new Directive (i.e. May 2011) in a specific zone. Request was subject to assessment by the Commission. In such cases within the time extension period, the limit value applies at the level of the limit value + maximum margin of tolerance (35 days at 75µg/m3 for daily PM10 limit value, 48 µg/m3 for annual PM10 limit value).

***Standard introduced by the new Directive.

Under EU law, a limit value is legally binding from the date it enters into force subject to any exceedances permitted by the legislation. A target value is to be attained as far as possible by the attainment date and so is less strict than a limit value.
In addition, the directive introduces new PM2.5 objectives based on the average exposure indicator (AEI). The AEI is determined as a 3-year running annual mean concentration of PM2.5 averaged over selected monitoring stations.

PM2.5 Average Exposure Indicator (AEI) Goals

Title Metric Averaging period Legal nature Permitted exceedences each year
PM2.5
Exposure concentration obligation
20 µg/m3
(AEI)
Based on 3 year average Legally binding in 2015 (years 2013, 2014, 2015) n/a
PM2.5
Exposure reduction target

Percentage reduction*
+ all measures to reach 18 µg/m3
(AEI)

Based on 3 year average

Reduction to be attained where possible in 2020, determined on the basis of the value of exposure indicator in 2010

n/a

* Depending on the value of AEI in 2010, a percentage reduction requirement (0,10,15, or 20%) is set in the directive. If AEI in 2010 is assessed to be over 22 µg/m3, all appropriate measures need to be taken to achieve 18 µg/m3 by 2020.

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