Belgium's illegal air pollution problem

Belgium's illegal air pollution problem
Credit: Belga

Many places across Belgium are still recording air pollution levels that exceed the legal limits in force since 2010, according to data from model maps published on Friday by the Interregional Cell for the Environment.

Particularly in Flanders and Brussels, concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution are exceeding both the European annual values and the threshold set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of 40 µg/m3.

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"It is unacceptable that, more than 10 years after being introduced, European health standards are still being flouted. These maps prove how our governments are failing to protect citizens from the damage that air pollution causes to our health," said Joeri Thijs, spokesperson of Greenpeace, which is taking the Flemish government to court for overriding the European limit.

The organisation said solutions such as smart road pricing are being politically ignored and added that it is now up to the judiciary to ensure that governments fulfill their duty of care.

Environmental lawyers at ClientEarth, which recently won a case against the Brussels regional government for breaching the EU law by failing to correctly monitor and protect its citizens from harmful levels of air pollution, said this data confirms the urgency of the problem.

“These new findings hammer home what we argued in court with local residents – Brussels residents are not being protected from toxic air because the authorities have not been tracking it properly,” said ClientEarth’s head of clean air Ugo Taddei.

These models give a representation of the quality of the air in different locations, as pollution is hardly measured by fixed measuring stations in many Belgian cities.

Following the ClientEarth case, Brussels regional authorities have already been instructed to install one or many air-quality measuring stations along the most polluted roads in the region within the next six months, or they will face penalties.

Air pollution is responsible for thousands of premature deaths every year, as well as cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, and cancer.

A 2013 report by the European Commission, which has repeatedly criticised Belgium for not respecting air quality standards, found that pollution costs the country's health care system €8 billion annually.

Lauren Walker

The Brussels Times

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