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EU regulators are referring Belgium and Bulgaria to the Court of Justice over the quality of their air, which poses a major risk to health. The European Union has also issued a final warning to Sweden reminding that it needs to take action.

More than 400,000 premature deaths per year linked to air pollution in the European Union, but member states have systematically missed targets to reduce levels of harmful emissions and dust particles associated with respiratory disease and some forms of cancer.

According to the Commission, Bulgaria has persistently failed to comply with legal limits on levels for PM10, or tiny particles, produced by traffic and industry, that can enter the lungs and bloodstream.

Belgium's track record has improved, but not sufficiently, with excessive levels of PM10 and nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide.

Sweden is also exceeding EU legal limits on pollutants and has been sent a warning, which if ignored could also lead to court action. Another nation previously singled out for failing to clean up its air is Britain, which has been given until the end of this year to submit new plans to the European Commission on how it will tackle levels of nitrogen dioxide.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has the power to impose daily fines if member states are found to be in breach of EU law.

Dutch government sued on air quality after citizen’s initiative

Whereas the Commission sued its members, the Dutch citizens brought their government to court over air quality levels. The result is that the Dutch court on Wednesday ordered the government of the Netherlands to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in what has been called a "milestone" verdict.

The Dutch state has to ensure that by 2020, emissions in the Netherlands are at least 25% lower compared to 1990, the court ruled. The court based its argument on what is deemed necessary by climate scientists, rather than by what has been legally agreed.

Based on current government policy, the Netherlands will achieve a 17% reduction at most. That is below the norm of 25 to 40 % which in climate science and international climate policy is deemed necessary for industrialized countries.

To know more about our efforts to fight air pollution, please visit our air quality section