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EU sues UK Government over air quality

The European Commission has launched a legal action against the UK Government for failing to deal appropriately with air pollution, after claiming that levels of gases such as nitrogen dioxide are too high in UK cities, reports the BBC.

The UK Government is committed to reducing the levels of air pollution in its cities in accordance with EU law, and had agreed a target for reductions with the EU that should have been met by 2010.

However, the British Government has now admitted that it will take an additional 15 years to make the 2010 target, putting the UK more than a decade behind the rest of Europe.

The EU directive in question is Directive 2008/50/EC on air pollution, which came into effect in 2008. The directive limits the levels of things like smoke, dirt and dust - known as particulate matter - as well as fine contaminants such as nitrogen oxides.

These particulate matters form 'ground level ozone' which can have an effect on the health of humans, animals and plants.

The UK was able to negotiate extensions of up to five years on the 2010 deadline providing they could show the EU proposals to cut emissions in time. However, the UK was a long way behind when the targets were agreed, with 40 of 43 areas in the UK off target.

The Government is on course to meet the target in 24 areas by 2015. However, there are 16 areas where this deadline will be missed and of those the Government expects many such as Manchester and Merseyside to take another five years to make the grade.

In London the pollution situation is so grave that the Government believes it will be another decade from now before the target is achievable.

The EU commission has said this is not acceptable and will now launch legal action against the UK to force more effort to be put into emissions reductions.

"Our priority is to protect public health and the environment. We think that's what the people of the UK would want as well," said Joe Hennon, a spokesman for the European Commission.