The European Commission proposed Wednesday to strengthen EU environment rules on ambient air, surface and groundwater pollutants, and treatment of urban wastewater. Air pollution alone means nearly 300,000 Europeans die prematurely each year, and the Commission says the proposed new rules will reduce deaths resulting from levels of the main pollutant PM2.5 above World Health Organization guidelines by more than 75% in ten years. The EU executive is proposing to tighten allowed levels of pollutants and also to improve implementation to ensure pollution reduction goals are more often reached in practice.

Air pollution is the greatest environmental threat to health and a leading cause of chronic diseases, including stroke, cancer and diabetes. The proposed revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directives will set interim 2030 EU air quality standards, aligned more closely with World Health Organization guidelines, while putting the EU on a trajectory to achieve zero pollution for air at the latest by 2050, in synergy with climate-neutrality efforts. The annual limit value for the main pollutant – fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – is proposed to be cut by more than half.

The Commission’s proposals leave it to national and local authorities to determine the specific measures they would take to meet the standards. At the same time, existing and new EU policies in environment, energy, transport, agriculture, R&I and other fields will make a significant contribution, as detailed in the factsheet. The proposal will help achieve dramatic improvement in air quality around Europe by 2030, leading to gross annual benefits estimated at €42 billion up to €121 billion in 2030, for less than a €6 billion costs annually.

The revised Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive will help Europeans benefit from cleaner rivers, lakes, groundwaters and seas, while making wastewater treatment more cost-effective. It is proposed to aim for energy-neutrality of the sector by 2040, and improve the quality of sludge to allow for more reuse contributing thus to a more circular economy. EU countries will be required to ensure access to sanitation for all, in particular vulnerable and marginalised groups.

In addition, learning the lessons from incidents such as the mass death of fish in the Oder river, the Commission proposes mandatory downstream river basin warnings after incidents. There are also improvements to monitoring, reporting, and easier future updates of the list to keep up with science. The new rules recognise the cumulative or combined effects of mixtures, broadening the current focus which is on individual substances solely.

Source: EUbusiness

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