Nitrogen dioxide emissions exceeded EU limit in 2011

Data submitted by Defra to European Commission shows that EU Ambient Air Quality levels were breached across UK in 2011

Air quality monitoring data compiled by Defra for the European Commission shows that the UK has breached nitrogen dioxide emission levels for four areas granted a time extension to comply with EU law.

Under conditions of the European Directive on Ambient Air Quality, Member States are required to keep emission levels of various pollutants including nitrogen dioxide below certain levels from January 2010.

A map showing background levels of PM2.5 across the UK in 2011

The Directive also involves undertaking air quality assessments with the findings reported to the European Commission annually.

After failing to meet this target in most parts of the UK, the government applied in September 2011 to postpone the deadline until 2015 at the latest for 24 out of the 43 zones. It also submitted plans to show how this would be achieved.

In June, the European Commission agreed to postpone the deadline for nine zones, including Portsmouth, Nottingham, North Wales and Leicester (see AirQualityNews story). And, the data submitted to the European Commission on Friday (September 28) shows that nitrogen dioxide levels in these three areas were breached in 2011.

In addition, the data shows that the daily limit for particulate matter (PM10) was breached in the Greater London Urban Area, for which a time extension has also been granted.


Meanwhile, the Average Exposure Indicator, which measures population weighted exposure to fine particles (PM2.5), shows that the level of fine particles in the air has worsened from 12.5 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) in 2009 to 13.0ug/m3 in 2010 and 13.5ug/m3 in 2011.  As a result of the PM2.5 level averaging 13.0 ug/m3, the UK has triggered a threshold requiring a 15% reduction by 2020.

Elsewhere, Teddington in south east London was shown to have exceeded ozone levels on 15 occasions in 2011, with a maximum reading of 160 ug/m3 taken.

Following the release of the data Simon Birkett, director of air quality campaign group Clean Air in London has called on the European Commission to impose sanctions on the UK for its ‘widespread’ breaches of air pollution limits.

He said: “Today’s report is the last step before the European Commission can launch infraction action against the UK for widespread breaches of air pollution laws across the UK.

“Enough’s enough. Clean Air in London calls on Commissioner Potočnik to launch infraction urgently against the UK prioritising the 16 zones for which no time extension was sought for NO2 (including London) and the four zones which have already breached the terms of time extensions granted for NO2 just four months ago.

“Clean Air in London also urges Commissioner Potočnik to launch infraction against the UK for obtaining unlawfully its time extension to comply with the PM10 daily limit value in London and breaching it anyway in Neasden Lane in Brent.”

Related Links

Air Pollution in the UK – Compliance Assessment Summary


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