European Commission Focussing on UK Air Pollution

According to the European Environment Agency, nearly 3,000 Londoners die every year from inhaling particulates, airborne particles emitted mostly by car exhausts. Six months ago, the European Commission gave formal notice that it was prosecuting Britain for failing to meet a limit for particulates that the Government agreed 10 years ago, and which came into force in 2005. Levels of particulates were meant to be decreasing, but have instead gone up.

The Government has responded by asking for a grace period to get levels down in the most polluted bits of the country – identifying parts of Glasgow, Swansea, the West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Yorkshire and Humberside, Eastern England and Brighton, as well as London.

The Commission will decide by February whether it will grant such an extension. The EC sets three criteria for leniency, and whilst most of these areas will probably qualify, it seems unlikely that London will meet the criteria. And even if London does get an extension, it will run out in 2011. On present trends, the capital is still unlikely to have cleaned itself up by then, and the Telegraph has suggested this could set up a huge potential embarrassment at the Olympic Games, with athletes complaining of the conditions and the media harking back to the days of the pea-soupers.

Moreover, by 2012 the country is also likely to be facing prosecution for a second pollutant, nitrogen dioxide. More than 100 towns and cities across the UK exceed the legal limit due to come into force next year, while average levels of the gas at roadsides in inner London are double it, giving London the honour of being the most polluted capital city in Europe.

If the Government is successfully prosecuted over either pollutant, let alone both, the country will face an unlimited lump-sum penalty, plus daily fines while it remains in breach of the limits. These fines, combined with the pressure of hosting a ‘green’ Games, may finally galvanise action.

For further details, please see The Telegraph.