A series of EU directives have imposed progressively more stringent limits on levels of harmful air pollution in ambient (outdoor) air.
These limits are known as “limit values”, and the European Court of Justice has long held that limit values have particular legal consequences:
where limit values are breached, concerned individuals and groups have the right to go before national courts to demand that action is taken.
In this sense EU citizens have a legal right to clean air.
However, for most people in the EU this right exists only on the pages of legal textbooks. Air pollution has a major impact on human health.
It is associated with a range of deadly diseases including cancer, heart disease, strokes and asthma, and is the number one environmental
cause of death in the EU, responsible for over 400,000 early deaths in 2010 alone.
Up to one-third of the EU urban population are exposed to air pollution which exceeds EU limit values.
As of 2012, 17 EU Member States remained in breach of limits for PM10, while 22 remained in breach of limits for NO2. In theory, citizens in all those countries could go to court to demand that action is taken. In reality, national rules and procedures often make it very difficult for them to do so.
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