Disagreements on emission limits and deadlines for meeting targets have dogged the negotiations regarding benzene and carbon monoxide, limits which will form the second ‘daughter’ directive under the Air Quality Framework Directive.

The environment ministers’ agreement sets out the following parameters:

  • a limit value of 5 µg/m3 for benzene to be met by 2010
  • a limit value of 10 mg/m3 by 2005 for carbon monoxide
  • for benzene, a single extension of 5 years is possible – member states invoking the possibility of extension will not exceed a limit value of 10 µg/m3 during the extension period

The Council of the European Union restated the importance of agreeing benzene and carbon monoxide limits, given the health effects of excessive emissions. Carbon monoxide reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood and therefore the body’s supply of oxygen. Meanwhile, benzene is a known carcinogen and affects the central nervous system. The principal emission source for both pollutants is road traffic.

The Air Quality Framework Directive was adopted in 1996. Its list of atmospheric pollutants requires the European Commission to bring forward ‘daughter’ proposals to limit the listed pollutants’ levels. A first daughter Directive, adopted in April, limits sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead. The proposal on benzene and carbon monoxide is the second daughter directive. Further daughter directives will tackle ground level ozone (see related story), precursors of ground level ozone, poly-aromatic hydrocarbons, cadmium, arsenic, nickel and mercury.

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