Benzene and carbon monoxide vote smooths way to directive

The European Parliament's Environment Committee has decided to adopt amendments to a proposed directive on benzene and carbon monoxide in ambient air. Environmentalists have welcomed amendments that improve the availability of information about the pollutants, but have warned that one of the amendments could allow Southern European member states to delay implementation of the directive.

The proposed directive sets for the first time limit values for benzene and carbon monoxide in the EU. This is the first time that an air quality standard has been introduced for a carcinogenic pollutant – benzene – where no safe threshold can be defined. To complement the limit values, uniform monitoring and information requirements are also specified in the directive.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and the European Federation for Transport and the Environment (T&E) welcomed the Committee’s decision to adopt amendments that will give citizens and NGOs access to documentation about the siting and location of monitoring stations. This means EU citizens and NGOs will be able to check that monitoring stations are not being located so as to avoid measuring highly polluted areas in efforts to attain compliance.

MEPs also voted to ensure that up-to-date information on pollution will be available on the internet and that the public should be informed of derogation terms and conditions, should their country be awarded one.

According to the EEB, the Commission feels that these amendments should be acceptable to Council and will therefore not be subject to further negotiations under the conciliation process.

One of the amendments remains controversial because, EEB argues, it could allow the Commission to extend the derogation timetable further if necessary. Southern European countries are particularly concerned about legislation that would force them to reduce benzene, because hot weather exacerbates local pollution problems.

“The greens are saying that the amendment says to the southern member states ‘don’t worry, you can extend the derogation.’ We say the amendment is unnecessary and assumptive,” Sarah Keay-Bright, clean air campaigner at EEB told edie. “Although some people argue that Parliament could take the matter to conciliation, we believe there are ways around that.”

EEB and T&E now hope that Parliament will adopt the Committee’s position next month and that the Council will adopt Parliament’s second reading so that the Directive may enter into force as soon as possible.

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