The European Regulatory Framework

The EU1388 AIDAIR project and the AirWare software system are designed to assist implementation of European environmental regulations, guidelines and Directives.

A summary of the European regulations relevant for Air Quality is available as an on-line PowerPoint slide show.

The latest on-line information from the European Commission:

This document has been adapted
from an original contribution by
Ray Pemberton, Aston University, UK.


A proposal for a Directive on ambient air quality assessment and management (COM(94)109) was published by the European Commission in July 1994. A main aim of the Directive is to protect human health and the environment and this will be achieved through

  1. Fixing objectives for air quality limit values and alert thresholds
  2. Assessing air quality in a uniform manner
  3. making information available to the public
  4. maintaining or improving ambient air quality.

Continuous improvement of air quality will be required to reach specified long term limit values (LTLV), which must be achieved within 10-15 years of the Directive entering into force. The Directive also raises the possibility of setting interim current permitted values (CPV) which incorporates a margin of exceedance and which decreases with time. The public would have to be informed when alert thresholds were breached.

Member states would be required to classify areas according to three criteria:

  1. Area of poor air quality (AQ exceeds CPV)
    Measures and programmes must aim to achieve CPV as soon as possible and to achieve LTLV in a specified time limit;

  2. Area of improving air quality (AQ is between CPV and LTLV)
    No increase allowed LTLV to be achieved within a specified time limit;

  3. Area of good air quality (AQ is under LTLV)
    No action required

Criteria for monitoring, modelling and estimation techniques will be fixed for individual pollutants. Member States must designate the national, regional or local authorities to be responsible for implementation of the Directive and also accredit laboratories for quality assurance and assessment.

"Acts" under the Directive will set air quality objectives, limit values, alert thresholds, guidance on monitoring, siting and measurement methods. Pollutants covered by existing Directives (sulphur dioxide and black smoke, including suspended particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, lead and ozone) are to be dealt with by 31 December 1996, when the current Directives would cease to apply. The aim is to deal with a second list of pollutants

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Cadmium
  • Acid Deposition
  • Benzene
  • PolyAromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)
  • Arsenic
  • Fluoride
  • Nickel

before 31 December 1999. Other substances may be added to the list on the basis of new scientific evidence on environmental or health effects.

The framework Directive will also deal with monitoring programmes and networks and reporting. More detailed monitoring requirements for specific pollutants would be included in the relevant Directive.


The European Union Directive on environmental assessment (85/337) was implemented in the UK in July 1988; it requires an environmental impact statement to be prepared on all proposed developments which might have a significant effect on the environment.

The statement should include a full description of the project; this might include measures to be taken to avoid, reduce or remedy any adverse effects of the development, and supporting data to enable full assessment by the public and various authorities.

Annex I of the Directive lists types of projects for which EA is mandatory, including

  • Large power stations (with a heat output of 300 MW or more)
  • Crude oil refineries
  • Asbestos Plants
  • Trunk roads and motorways
  • Long distance railway lines
  • Airports with a planned runway length of 2100 metres or more

An EA is also required for all developments for the disposal of special waste, including

  • Incinerators
  • Chemical waste treatment facilities
  • Landfill facilities
  • Radioactive waste disposal sites
  • Toxic and hazardous waste facilities.

A second list, Annex II, includes projects which "shall be made subject to an assessment where Member States consider their characteristics so require". Such projects may include the following industries

  • Agriculture
  • Extractive
  • Energy
  • Metal processing
  • Glass making
  • Chemical
  • Food
  • Textile
  • Leather
  • Wood
  • Paper
  • Rubber

The European Commission has published proposals for amending the 1985 Directive (COM(93) 575) This will give more guidance as to the information to be provided by developers and would require the public to be consulted prior to authorisation of the project (rather than before start of the work). EA for Annex I projects would remain mandatory

Additional criteria for deciding whether or not an Annex II project should be subject to EA include

  1. is the project likely to have "significant" environmental effects (on the basis of preset thresholds); and

  2. is it likely to have a "significant" effect on an area designated a special protection zone under other EU legislation.

Projects for the reprocessing of irradiated nuclear fuels and the temporary storage of radioactive waste are to be added to Annex I (mandatory EA required); tourism and leisure projects are added to Annex II. The draft Directive also takes account of the UN-ECE Convention on transboundary effects

UN-ECE Convention on Transboundary Effects

A convention covering environmental impact assessment for projects with transboundary effects has been drawn up by the UN Economic Commission for Europe, but has yet to be ratified. This applies solely to those projects with possible transboundary effects (e. g. off- shore oil production, new reservoirs or dams). The convention would give those likely to be affected by a project the right to be notified about the project, to participate in the EIA and then to be consulted about the transboundary impacts and measures to mitigate them.


The European Union (EU) formerly European Economic Community, has become one of the most important international innovators on environmental issues (see Action Programmes on the Environment). The need to reduce emissions from all sources is a major thrust of the EU's policy to improve air quality and to improve health. More recently the global threats of climate change and depletion of the ozone layer have been an important factor in shaping EU policy.

Transport Policy

In 1992 the European Commission adopted a Green Paper on the impact of Transport on the Environment (COM(92)46 final). This outlines an EU strategy for "sustainable mobility" and highlights the expected growth in all forms of transport with a consequent rise in levels of pollution. Between 1990 and 2010, the Commission forecasts a growth in road/goods transport of 42 per cent, in rail/goods transport of 33 per cent, and in air/passenger transport of 74 per cent. Private cars are predicted to increase 45 per cent over the period 1987-2010 and vehicle kilometres 25 per cent between 1990 and 2010.

The Green Paper while noting the EU's current and future legislative programmes on emission limits and standards, says that these will not be enough to contain likely environmental damage from increased transport. The Commission suggests the need for a more integrated approach to transport policy and policy in other areas on which transport has an impact, such as planning and economic policy.

Vehicle Emissions

A number of important initiatives have been taken by the EU in relation to air pollution, with much focusing on efforts to reduce emissions from road vehicles in line with work initiated by the UN Economic Commission for Europe. Since the original 1970 Directive on vehicle emissions, there has been a steady series of Directives progressively tightening emissions. The latest was formally adopted in March 1994 by the Council of Ministers.

Other measures, limiting the lead content of petrol and the sulphur content of gasoils, resulted in what are essentially Product Standards. These set levels for pollutants or nuisance which are not to be exceeded in the composition or the emission of a product. Some specify properties or characteristics of design of a product or are concerned with the way in which products are used.

Air Quality Standards

An important change in UK policy resulted from the adoption in July 1980 of a Directive on health protection standards for levels of sulphur dioxide and suspended particulates in air. This fixed limit values (and non- mandatory guide values) for those substances, to be applied throughout the EU by 1983 (although some areas were allowed a derogation in special circumstances until 1993). Similar Directives for nitrogen oxides and lead followed. The relevant standards are shown in table 1

In September 1992 a Directive on air Pollution by Ozone (92/72/EEC) was adopted. The Directive includes requirements for a monitoring network, exchange of information and for a warning system for when ozone concentrations exceed thresholds above which there is considered to be a health risk. The values, which should not be exceeded, are based on WHO recommendations.

When the population thresholds are exceeded (see table) information must be available "on a sufflciently large scale as soon as possible to enable the population concerned to take all appropriate preventive protective action". Such information should include

  1. The area affected
  2. Forecast of length of episode
  3. Whether ozone levels are likely to increase further
  4. information on what health precautions are advisable (e. g. the need to avoid strenuous exercise).

In order to achieve equality throughout the Union and harmonise measurements and, subsequently, techniques, the Commission has set up a framework for the exchange of air pollution data. There are also specific intercomparison programmes in connection with the air quality Directives for sulphur dioxide and suspended particulates, nitrogen oxides, and lead.

The European Commission's Fifth Action Programme, Towards Sustainabitity (see also Action Programmes on the Environment), includes a commitment to review the air quality Directives before 1995 with a view to their amendment. A draft Directive on ambient air quality assessment and management (COM(94)109) has now been published and is summarised later.

It is also worth noting that the World Health Organization has drawn up air quality guidelines for a number of air pollutants (see Air Quality Guidelines for Europe, WHO, 1987). While these guidelines are not mandatory, they are generally accepted as being levels not to be exceeded if healthy air quality is to be maintained.

The Fifth Action Programme also proposes that the WHO's guidelines on these and other pollutants should become mandatory by no later than 1998.

Industrial Emissions

The European Union has identified an important role for itself in relation to the UN ECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution. There is considerable concern about the effects of acid deposition in specific areas of the EU and the Commission has initiated various measures aimed at reducing discharges of pollutants thought to contribute to the problem. These provide a framework for reduction of industrial air pollution and propose specific emission limits for pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and suspended particulates.

In 1988 agreement was reached on the Large Combustion Plant Directive (88/609/EEC) which commits member states to specific reductions in emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from large fossil fuel burning plant (50 MW or more), mainly power stations. The UK is committed to reducing sulphur dioxide emissions from existing plant in steps of 20, 40 and 60 per cent of the 1980 baseline by 1993, 1998 and 2003 respectively. Reductions in nitrogen oxides emissions of 15 per cent by 1993 and 30 percent by 1998 must also be achieved. The Directive is currently being reviewed, and the Commission is expected to propose further reductions in emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides and to extend the targets to all emission sources.

The 1988 Directive did not cover sulphur dioxide emissions from new solid fuel plant between 50-100 MW since agreement could not be reached on the limit to be applied to these plant. In June l994 Environment Ministers adopted a common position on an amendment to this Directive, COM(92) 563. This sets an emission limit of 2000 mg/m3 ror such plant (i.e those authorised to start after 1 July 1987). Proposals for a Directive covering emissions from small (up to 50 MW) combustion plant are under discussion.

In its Fifth Action Programme (see Action Programmes on the Environment), the European Commission has set a target of reducing emissions of acidifying gases to ensure no exceedances of critical loads and levels. In addition to measures already in hand, the Commission proposes an EU-wide target of the stabilisation of nitrogen oxides at 1990 levels by 1994, and a 30 per cent reduction by 2000; for sulphur dioxide a reduction of 35 per cent by 2000 using 1985 as a base is proposed. Other measures include

The revision of municipal waste incineration standards An inventory of ammonia emissions and standards for new farm buildings Product standards for coal, fuel oils and residuals.

Major Accident Hazards

Following a major explosion at a chemical factory in Seveso, Italy, in 1976, which resulted in health and environmental problems in the area, the EU adopted a Directive on the Major Accident Hazards of Certain Industrial Activities (82/501/EEC). This Directive, which was amended in 1987 and 1988, is commonly known as the Seveso Directive.

The Directive aims, through laying down requirements for notification of major hazard sites, hazard and risk assessments, safety reports and emergency planning, to prevent major accidents which may cause serious damage to the environment or human health. An amendment to the Directive (87/216/EEC) required owners of "top tier" sites, i.e. those storing above specified amounts of hazardous substances and those carrying out particularly toxic or hazardous activities, to provide information to the public on the nature of the hazard and on action to be taken in the event of an accident.

The Directive mainly applies to the chemical and petrochemical industries and to those which produce or use substances with flammable, toxic or explosive properties. Warehouses and storage facilities, including waste disposal plant, for hazardous materials such as fuel oils and gases are included, but nuclear and military installations are not.

The Commission has now published its proposals for amending this Directive (COM(94) 4). These are largely aimed at closing some of the loopholes/shortcomings of the earlier directives in the light of lessons learned from accidents since the Directive came into force; many of the accidents are felt to have been preventable given better management and operational procedures.

The new Directive would require operators of those installations where dangerous substances are present above a certain threshold to identify possible hazards and to adopt appropriate management and staff training procedures to prevent accidents or minimise harm caused by accidental releases. Where hazardous substances are present in very large quantities, a detailed safety report would have to be produced, including "main possible major accident scenarios" and how they would be dealt with; the safety reports would have to be publicly available.

Solvent Emissions

The European Commission is currently finalising a proposal for a Framework Directive on limiting emissions of organic solvents from certain industrial processes and installations. This is likely to require plant using more than a prescribed quantity of VOCs to draw up Solvent Management Plans. Annexes would detail controls by sector, e. g. metal degreasing, coating of new cars, printing, food processing, pharmaceuticals, textiles and dyeing etc; practical implementation to achieve Best Available Technology Not Entailing Excessive Cost (BATNEEC) would be left to member states, as would any authorisation procedure.

The European Environment Agency

Although agreement was reached on the establishment of the EEA in 1990 (Regulation 1210/90), it did not formally begin work until late 1993. Its main task is to record, collate and analyse data on the environment, drawing up expert reports. These will enable both the EC and the member states to formulate appropriate environmental protection policies. A further aim of the EEA is to develop techniques for harmonising measurement and forecasting methods. The agency's remit initially includes air, water, soiI, wildlife, land use, waste management and noise. Its remit may be extended in due course to include responsibility for monitoring implementation of EU legislation, establishing criteria for ecolabelling and for assessing environmental impacts, as well as promotion of environmentally friendly technologies.

Information collected by the Agency will be publicly available and a report on the state of the environment will be published every three years.


The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972, marked the beginning of global recognition of environmental problems which could only be solved by a sustained effort in all countries.

The European Community responded by drawing up its First Action Programme on the Environment. It covered the period 1973-76 and was adopted by the Council of Ministers in November 1973. This First Action Programme was a wide-ranging document containing a large number of measures designed to deal with already urgent pollution problems; it also took a longer term view of the future and sought the positive management of human activities in such a way as to prevent further problems arising. The First Action Programme also set out goals and objectives, defined principles, such as the Polluter Pays Principle, and recognised that prevention is better than cure. It adopted a comprehensive approach, tackling both air and water pollution, the management of wastes, noise pollution and the protection of wildlife and habitats. These ideas and principles were given further substance in three subsequent Action Programmes covering 1977-81, 1982-86 and 1987-92.

In 1993 the Commission's Fifth Action Programme "Towards Sustainability" was approved by the Council of Ministers and the Parliament. In their Resolution adopting the Programme, the EU Environment Ministers ask the Commission to ensure that all proposals relating to the environment properly reflect the principle of subsidiarity". They also note that further measures will be needed if the desire for sustainable development is to be achieved.

The Programme, which runs from 1993-2000, with a review in late 1995, stresses the need for all sectors of the community, governments, industry and citizens, to become involved in and to take responsibility for the protection of their environment. It says that environmental policies should be integrated into all areas of Community policy if the goal of sustainability is to be achieved. Sustainability in this context is defined as reflecting "a policy and strategy for continued economic and social development without detriment to the environment and the natural resources on the quality of which continued human activity and further development depend".

The Programme states that "the Community will take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and insofar as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale of effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community's It also recognises that in many areas, objectives will best be achieved through shared responsibility "using a mix of actors and instruments at the appropriate levels" i.e. that action should be taken at Community, national or local level as appropriate.

Five areas requiring major effort because of the stresses each can place on the environment are targeted; theme are industry, agriculture, energy, transport and tourism. The Commission suggests that these are all areas at which action for improvement can most efficiently and appropriately be taken at Community level. Within each of these target areas the Programme identifies a number of objectives aimed at achieving sustainable development while benefitting the sector concerned. The Programme also identifies a number of environmental issues which because of their transboundary or global nature should be dealt with at Community level. Akin objectives and targets are set and a programme to be reviewed and developed is proposed. The environmental issues higlighted are

  • Climate change
  • Acidification
  • Air quality
  • Urban environment (noise)
  • Waste management
  • Protection of nature and biodiversity
  • Management of water resources and coastal zones


In 1990, the European Union adopted a Directive on Public Access to Environmental Information (90/313/EEC) which was required to be implemented by 31 December 1992. Under the Directive members of the public are entitled to have access to all information about the environment held by government and public authorities in their own or another member state (unless exempt on the grounds of commercial confidentiality or national security).

The Directive defines this as information relating to

  1. The state of water, air, soil, fauna, flora, land and natural sites

  2. Activities (including those which give rise to nuisances such as noise) or measures adversely affecting, or likely to affect these; and

  3. Activities or measures designed to protect these, including administrative measures and environmental management programmes.

Information must be supplied within two months of a request. Reasons for refusal must be given and there must be a right of appeal.

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