Official Journal of the European Union

C 110/16

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council relating to arsenic, cadmium, mercury, nickel and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient air’

(COM(2003) 423 final – 2003/0164(COD))

(2004/C 110/04)

On 29 August 2003, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Articles 95 and 251 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on this subject, adopted its opinion on 5 February 2004. The rapporteur was Mr McDonogh.

At its 406th plenary session of 25 and 26 February 2004 (meeting of 25 February 2004), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 101 votes with two abstentions:

1.   Introduction


Council Directive 96/62/EC on ambient air quality assessment and management (the Air Quality Framework Directive) provides a framework for future EC legislation on air quality.


Annex 1 of Directive 96/62/EC contains a provision for regulating ambient air quality of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, nickel and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) by setting out criteria and techniques for assessing ambient air quality, and laying down provisions for forwarding information to the Commission and the public.


This Commission Proposal fulfils the obligations under Directive 96/62/EC by introducing legislation for those heavy metals mentioned in Annex I which are recognised as being either known or suspected human carcinogens for which no threshold levels for adverse effects on human health have been identified.

2.   Gist of the proposal


The Commission proposal recognises there are no cost-effective measures to attain everywhere the concentration levels that would not give rise to harmful effects on human health. It therefore does not strictly follow Directive 96/62/EC which foresees the setting of binding limit values.


The proposal foresees mandatory monitoring where concentrations exceed the following assessment thresholds:

6 ng arsenic /m3,

5 ng cadmium /m3,

20 ng nickel /m3,

1 ng Benzo(a) pyrene (BaP) /m3.

Concentrations below these levels would minimise harmful effects on human health. Therefore, only indicative monitoring of concentration of these heavy metals at a limited number of specific sites is required when the above assessment thresholds are not exceeded.


Regarding mercury, the Commission considers that the evidence for total exposure should be reviewed in due course and that this review should give particular emphasis to source-receptor relationships and the transformation of mercury in the environment.


Member States must inform the Commission and the public on any exceedance of the target value, the reasons thereof and any measures taken.

3.   General comments


The Committee appreciates that because there are no known threshold levels for estimating adverse effects on human health, setting targets is especially difficult. Given that the impact on human health and the environment from these pollutants occurs via concentrations in ambient air and via deposition to terrestrial and aquatic environments and that the deposition to the terrestrial environment can also effect soil quality and fertility and the contamination of vegetation, the Committee therefore welcomes the Commission's proposal.


The Committee agrees with the Commission's evaluation that its proposal is ‘ambitious and practical’. It therefore also considers that it is essential that the objectives should be reviewed in due course as there are many issues concerning the fate and behaviour of heavy metals and POP compounds that are still poorly understood, in particular with regard to mercury.

4.   Specific comments


The Committee underlines the need to recognise that reported ambient air concentrations in the proposal are mean values across the EU-15 which are known to vary spatially and for some pollutants seasonally. For example, the heavier PAH compound BaP has significantly higher winter concentrations resulting from increased fuel combustion for domestic heating. This may result in the exceedence of the target level for a significant proportion of the year although the annual average value may show compliance with the threshold.


It is also likely that the proposed assessment threshold values for the metals (and the target value for BaP) will be exceeded close to certain industrial installations and in rural locations during the winter months when demand for space heating is high. As a consequence, there will be a number of sub-populations within the EU that may be consistently exposed to ambient air pollution at levels above the desirable limits. These proposals, therefore, do not provide adequate protection (certainly in the short-term) for some members of the population.


The Committee believes that as the emission data produced in the proposed directive have been taken from the reference year of 1990, the Commission should consider the need for including more contemporary data which will identify trends over the last decade or so. In this way any reductions in key source groups could also be identified.


BaP has been chosen as an indicator of carcinogenic risk, although it is only one of 16 commonly measured priority PAH compounds. The UN/ECE list, for example, includes three further indicator compounds. The EESC believes that in order to ensure that the 4th daughter directive is compatible (and comparable) with other international agreements (such as the UN/ECE POPs protocol) other PAH compounds should be considered for inclusion in the directive.


The Committee believes that diffusive sources such as domestic heating, (important for PAH compounds), are more difficult to control and hence incur greater cost. Other measures aimed at controlling mobile emissions (e.g. improving fuel quality to reduce particulate emissions) will also help to reduce ambient air concentrations. It appears that domestic stove/burner optimisation for controlling BaP emissions would be beneficial for reducing exposure, particularly in rural areas. Retrospective upgrades to existing stoves are likely to be excessively expensive but specifications for new stoves, boilers and heating appliances should be provided to ensure future emissions are reduced.


The Committee believes that it is clear that further assessment of the potential sources of these pollutants within the ten Accession Countries is required and that emissions from these countries are likely to affect ambient air quality across the whole of Europe. Accession countries must therefore be encouraged, and where necessary assisted, to comply with the directive in a timely manner to ensure that cross-boundary pollution is minimised.


The Committee understands that the cost-benefit calculations suggest that the costs for upgrading key sources would require considerable investment. This investment could potentially have serious consequences for industry leading to the loss of competitiveness. The Commission must therefore ensure that when implementing the directive, a balance between economic impacts and positive health benefits must be struck even if difficult steps may be required to improve air quality, reduce exposure and improve human health.


The Committee also believes that an important part of the implementation of this proposed 4th daughter directive will be the provision of information to the public on local air quality issues with respect to these pollutants. It is imperative, however, that the public are also provided with the necessary tools to interpret and understand these data.

Brussels, 25 February 2004.

The President

of the Economic and Social Committee