• May 19, 2024

When ultra-fine is not fine

 When ultra-fine is not fine

Photo by Dean Hochman

The European Commission has said that it is carrying out a fitness check of its two EU Ambient Air Quality directives to determine by next year whether they are ‘fit for purpose’.
The Commission was responding to a question From a French member of the European Parliament inspired by reports of poor air quality at Étang de Berre, which is in the south of France and which comprises one of the largest industrial areas in Europe, with more than 200 factories.
‘It turns out that, in 2010, the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance highlighted an excessive number of hospitalizations for cardiovascular conditions and for multiple illnesses west of Étang de Berre,’ Mélin said in a preamble to her question.
‘In January 2017, new information emerged from the community-based participatory environmental health survey (CBPEH), which noted the high likelihood of a link “between the illnesses and industrial pollution”.
‘However, in 2011, the Eco-citizen Institute launched campaigns to measure the air quality, which resulted in it noting that the air around the industrial area “was made up of 80 percent ultra-fine particulate matter and [that] the chemical composition of the air pollutants was extremely complex”.
‘Ultra-fine particulate matter is the most dangerous for our health because it gets deep into our bodies.
‘However, if Air Paca [a non-profit association that manages the air quality survey network in south-eastern France’s Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur region] does not measure it, it is because European legislation does not require member states to measure the levels of ultra-fine particulate matter.
‘Therefore, we would like to know whether the Commission wishes to encourage member states to measure the levels of ultra-fine particulate matter in order to assess toxicity of the air in industrial areas in more detail.’
In response, the Commission said that when the World Health Organization published its latest Air Quality Guidelines in 2006, it had concluded that, while there was considerable toxicological evidence of potential detrimental effects of ultra-fine (UF) particles on human health, the existing body of epidemiological evidence was insufficient to reach a conclusion on the exposure–response relationship of UF particles. ‘Therefore, no recommendations were provided at that time as to guideline concentrations of UF particles,’ the Commission said in its written reply.
‘The Ambient Air Quality directives, which were last revised in 2008, do not require the assessment of air quality with respect to ultrafine particles.
‘The Commission is carrying out a fitness check of the two EU Ambient Air Quality directives, which will evaluate whether these two complementary directives are “fit for purpose” by assessing the overall performance of this regulatory framework with respect to its policy objectives.
‘The fitness check covers all provisions of the two EU Ambient Air Quality directives. In particular, it will include an assessment of the extent to which the directives continue addressing the most pressing air pollutants and set meaningful air quality standards to protect human health and ecosystems in accordance with the evolving scientific understanding.
‘The findings of the fitness check will be used to inform further reflections on whether the directives continue to provide the appropriate legislative framework to ensure protection from adverse impacts on, and risks to, human health and the environment.
‘The Commission expects to conclude this fitness check in 2019.’