EU policy puts us all at risk from particulates

19th September 2007
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Limits set by the EU on the maximum amount of particulate matter allowed in our air could be inadequate, a report by the European Respiratory Society (ERS) makes clear.

Current EU levels for the concentration of PM 2.5 (particulate matter below 2.5 micrometres in size, which can be found in diesel exhaust) are 20 micrograms per cubic metre (20 mg.m-3). But the ERS says that these limits are not 'suffient to adequately protect public health'.

In addition, new guidelines released by the EU to further reduce the amounts of particulate matter in our air are not legally binding on enforcers or polluters, and the ERS fears that member states will take no action to further reduce levels.

The EU has also chosen to exlude 'background sources' of PM 10 (particulate matter below 10 micrometres in size), allowing measurements to 'subtract' already present sources of PM 10 from new measurements. The ERS fears that this will allow levels of PM 10 above safe limits to pass unnoticed.

The EU guidelines will in addition allow countries to exceed maximum levels of PM 10 on 55 days of the year.

The link between increased mortality and exposure to particulate matter is now well scientifically attested, and there are clear signs that high concentrations of the particles can lead to strokes and heart attacks.

Should the legislation be passed unamended, a reduction in the number of health impacts from particulate matter will be 'unattainable', write the report's authors.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist September 2007

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