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Environment

Air Quality

The EU sets air quality standards to protect human health and the environment.

Overview

The Ambient Air Quality Directives set EU air quality standards for 12 air pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide / nitrogen oxides, particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5), ozone, benzene, lead, carbon monoxide, arsenic, cadmium, nickel, and benzo(a)pyrene. The Directives take into account relevant World Health Organisation standards, guidelines and programmes.

The Directives also guide the assessment of air quality by establishing a representative high-quality monitoring network, with more than 4 000 air quality monitoring stations across the EU, and by exchanging reliable, objective, comparable information on air quality, including to a wider public. Where levels are elevated above limit or target values (see EU air quality standards), Member States should prepare an air quality plan or programme to address the sources responsible to ensure compliance and to keep exceedance periods as short as possible. In addition, information on air quality should be disseminated to the public.

Background

Since the 1980s, the EU has adopted policies on air quality. The current Ambient Air Quality Directives have inherited many provisions, including many air quality standards from previous legislation. These policies have contributed to the decrease of exceedances for most air pollutants over the past decade. However, the air quality challenge is far from being solved. Although the number of people exposed to air pollution has significantly decreased over recent decades, persistent exceedances above EU air quality standards remain for several air pollutants.

Objectives

The Ambient Air Quality Directives

  • define common methods to monitor, assess and inform on ambient air quality in the EU
  • establish objectives for ambient air quality to avoid, prevent or reduce harmful effects on human health and the environment

Law

Legislation

  • Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe
  • Directive 2004/107/EC relating to arsenic, cadmium, mercury, nickel and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient air
  • Commission Directive (EU) 2015/1480 amending several annexes to Directives 2004/107/EC and 2008/50/EC
  • 2011/850/EU: Commission Implementing Decision of 12 December 2011 laying down rules for Directives 2004/107/EC and 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the reciprocal exchange of information and reporting on ambient air quality

Revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directives

As part of the European Green Deal, the EU is revising the air quality standards to align them more closely with the recommendations of the World Health Organization. See the latest WHO Air Quality Guidelines, published on 22 September 2021. This revision also aims to improve overall EU legislation for clean air, building on the lessons learnt from the 2019 evaluation (‘fitness check’) of the Ambient Air Quality Directives.

The Commission expects to adopt the revision in 2022. Find out more about the fitness check and revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directives.

EU air quality standards

The EU air quality standards of the Ambient Air Quality Directivesare summarised on this page. 

Implementation

Air quality zones

Member States must report on air quality zones designated under the Ambient Air Quality Directives.

Time extensions

Under certain conditions and for certain pollutants, the deadline to achieve compliance with limit values was extended.

Assessment

Assessing ambient air quality should be based on common methods and criteria for air quality monitoring and modelling.

Tools

Data and reporting

Up-to-date information on ambient concentrations of the different pollutants should regularly be made publically available.

EEA Air Quality Portal

The European Air Quality (AQ) Portal is dedicated to the Air Quality e-Reporting system established by the European Commission and run by the European Environmental Agency.