Weakening air pollution regulations could allow airport and road expansions

Friends of the Earth believe new directive will clear the way for third runway

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A new 'Directive' on air pollution is currently being discussed among the European Union institutions. However, Friends of the Earth (FOE) claim to have discovered that the UK and other governments are trying to weaken the proposals and believe that this is so that member states, including the UK, can get away with expanding airports such as Heathrow and building roads, even though they may breach air pollution standards set to protect human health.

"A major concern is postponement of the date by which standards have to be met. The draft Directive already allows an extension of 5 years from the target date of 2010 to 2015, but there are amendments to allow even longer postponements. Such 'derogations' could render the regulations almost meaningless and could allow Heathrow to be expanded despite it breaching health limits." says FOE campaigner Nic Ferriday.

"Another major concern is that standards will not apply right across the territories of the states. The UK government tabled a series of amendments would allow a series of gaps and exemptions. These too could make it easier to expand Heathrow.

"The third concern is proposals to weaken the standards for 'small particulates' or 'PM10s. (These are tiny particles of less than 10 microns or on hundredth of a millimetre.) The particles penetrate deeply into the lungs and are the most dangerous of all the pollutants.

"The UK government wants to build a third runway at Heathrow, but realises it may be thwarted by EU air pollution regulations, in particular relating to nitrogen dioxide.

"Air pollution is one of the most important environmental and health problems in Europe, causing some 370 000 premature deaths. This is like loosing the population of Malta every year. The GLA estimates that 1,000 people die in London from air pollution. Yet the government is seeking to weaken the regulations. That is why we are calling our MEPs to vote for strengthening instead of weakening the Directive."

July 4, 2006