The European Union on Wednesday proposed stricter legal limits for unhealthy dirty air and rules forcing pharmaceutical companies to pay to clean up wastewater contaminated by their products.
The European Commission proposed three laws against air and water pollution that harm health and the environment. Among them is a requirement that, by 2030, EU countries meet new legally binding air pollution limits closer to the stricter recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO tightened its air quality guidelines last year, hoping to push countries toward clean energy and prevent deaths caused by polluted air.
“Air pollution remains the biggest environmental threat to our health. The effects are worst for the most vulnerable: children, the elderly and people with certain diseases,” said EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius.
Air pollution causes 300,000 premature deaths in Europe every year. Sinkevicius claimed that tightening EU rules could reduce those deaths by 70% in the next ten years.
Long-term exposure to air pollutants, such as particulate matter from industry and nitrogen dioxide from traffic, can lead to diabetes, lung disease, and cancer.
The stricter limits would include cutting the current EU annual limit for fine particles by more than half by 2030. EU countries and the European Parliament must negotiate and approve the plans.
The Commission said it would review the rules in 2028 with the aim of bringing them fully in line with the WHO, but its analysis had shown that many areas of the EU would struggle to meet the WHO limits in this decade.
Environmental law firm ClientEarth called the proposal a “big missed opportunity” because it introduces financial penalties for polluters who break the rules, but not for enforcement authorities.
“Air quality standards are an empty promise without economic sanctions holding governments to account if they break them,” said ClientEarth’s clean air manager Ugo Taddei.
Air quality in Europe has improved over the past decade, but the EU has taken more than 10 countries to court for breaching its limits. The Court of Justice of the European Union has found countries such as France, Poland, Italy and Romania guilty of illegal air pollution.
Another proposal would make companies responsible for part of the cost of cleaning up the pollution their products release into wastewater, a measure that would affect the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.
Brussels also wants to increase the list of controlled contaminants in groundwater or surface water.