From: Michael McDonough, Associated Press
Published May 25, 2005 12:00 AM

Soot Levels in London Air Breach EU Pollution Law

LONDON — The quantity of soot in London air breaches European Union rules on pollution, British authorities acknowledged Tuesday, drawing accusations that they have dragged their feet on improving the country's air quality.


The amount of fine particles recorded at a monitoring site near the center of the capital have exceeded EU limits at least 37 times this year, said a spokesman at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.


EU rules that came into effect on Jan. 1 say the limit of 50 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter should not be exceeded for more than 35 days a year.


London is over that limit and it's only May. No other British city was close to the 35-day limit.


Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth said the findings showed urgent government action was required.


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"We know that mortality increases because of particle pollution, and there are other health problems, such as asthma and renal disease," said spokesman Roger Higman. "But nothing is being done to prevent them."


Higman urged officials to introduce traffic reduction targets and low-emission zones that exclude the most heavily polluting vehicles.


The British government said it recognized more work was needed to improve air quality, said Ben Bradshaw, a city environmental official.


In a statement, his department said there was an "overall transport strategy that will reduce air pollution ... but these (measures) will take time to work through."


The European Commission, the EU's head office, estimates that soot -- or particulate matter -- cuts life expectancy by an average nine months across the EU member states. The small airborne particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less aggravate respiratory diseases and increase the risks of heart disease.


EU countries agreed the limits for soot levels in 1999, meaning they had some six years to take action before the EU directive on particles came into effect on Jan. 1, 2005.


Britain, however, isn't the only country in breach of the new rules. Munich in Germany violated the 35-day limit in March, and other German cities were already close to the limit by that time.


EU rules require that member states send the European Commission a yearly list of areas where the particle limit has been exceeded. The commission can take legal action at the EU's high court against governments that fail to implement European directives, but the complex legal process can take decades.


No one was immediately available at the commission Tuesday for comment on whether Britain risked legal action because of the particle limits being exceeded at the monitoring site in Marylebone Road.


Last summer the commission accused national governments of letting their citizens down by failing to properly implement EU environment laws. It named France, Italy and Ireland as the worst offenders.


Source: Associated Press


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