Health

Brussels ordered to get real on its pollution problem

Brussels is being forced to come clean about the level of toxic fumes being inhaled on its dirtiest streets.

The EUs top court said Wednesday that regional authorities can no longer rely on their past practice of averaging air pollution measures across the city, a ruling that could expose an endemic pollution problem in parts of the Belgian capital.

The citys people have persistently been exposed to illegal levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter (PM), which spew out of vehicle exhausts in congested parts of Brussels — levels worsened by this weeks heatwave.

The EUs legal limit for NOx is 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/m3). A monitoring station at Arts-Loi in the European quarter recorded an average NOx level of 56 µg/m3 since it was turned back on in 2016. Another at Rue Belliard, which cuts across the political district, is averaging 52 µg/m3 so far this year.

Both of those areas are in the heart of the district where thousands of EU politicians and bureaucrats work.

“We have known for years that the EU district is in the middle of one of Belgiums most polluted areas,” said Jens Mueller, who works on air pollution for Brussels-based campaign group Transport & Environment.

Both stations, and another at the European Parliament, which now records safe levels of pollution, were switched off by authorities temporarily in recent years, a decision green groups argue was an effort to conceal the scale of the citys pollution problem. The regional government said that the siting of those stations wasnt in accordance with EU rules.

To meet EU norms, the government would average pollution levels across the city; nitrogen dioxide pollution in the leafy suburb of Uccle was 18 µg/m3 in 2018.

In its ruling Wednesday, the Court of Justice of the European Union said averaging values of air pollution “does not provide a valid indication” of the populations exposure to pollution.

ClientEarth, a legal NGO that was one of the parties to the lawsuit against the city, said the ruling means Brussels cannot “hide poor air quality in some areas by using a city-wide average.”

Laying down the law

The EUs Air Quality Directive, which sets rules on the use and location of measuring stations, gives national authorities discretion where to set up those points.

The Brussels government says it has more sampling points than required, and that those stations accurately represent the city, but locals have treated those locations with suspicion.

The city only has five monitoring stations collecting information on fine particle matter (PM2.5). A local campaign group conducted its own study in February and found illegal levels of PM2.5 across suburban areas and not only in the center. The group argued that the five stations are insufficient for a city of 1 million people measuring 160 square kilometers.

In its ruling, the CJEU said national courts can assess whether authorities choice of location accurately measures pollution.

Lies Craeynest, one of five Brussels residents who filed the case challenging the citys air quality plan in court alongside ClientEarth, called the result “a total victory.”

Craeynest lives just off Rue du Trône, which runs from the central ring road out past the European Parliament. Her family “lives, eats, breathes … in a bubble, covered by air pollution on a daily basis,” she said, adding that her own moRead More – Source