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Brussels government skirts truth on air pollution with legal technicality

The Brussels regional government has today dodged having to immediately reveal the true state of the city’s toxic air to its residents, using a legal technicality to avoid properly monitoring air pollution at hotspots.

In September 2016 ClientEarth and a group of Brussels citizens took the Brussels authorities to court over several breaches of air quality laws. This included a request for an urgent order to improve the monitoring network to provide realistic information on pollution levels in the areas where people were most exposed to them. The Brussels court of first instance today issued a preliminary ruling, saying that a decision on monitoring stations would have to wait until the entire case is concluded.

This means it could be another year before the people of Brussels will be informed of the level of exposure to harmful pollutants at the worse spots in Brussels.

What levels of air pollution are we looking at?

There is another smog alert in Brussels today, showing just how serious the situation is in the city without including the full facts.

ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei, said: “We understand the judge’s decision and are confident that the final decision will force the authorities to comply with their monitoring obligations. But we are appalled by the callous actions of the Brussels regional government. When pollution monitors were showing dangerous levels of air pollution, they simply switched them off and have now used legal technicalities to delay the point when they will be forced by the court to meet their legal and moral obligations. This shows a disregard for the health of all of us who live and work in Brussels.

“Everybody has the right to know if they are breathing in toxic air but the Brussels government has fought to block this in the courts while publicly claiming they are doing everything they are obliged to do to monitor air pollution.

“Brussels citizens deserve more than deceptive reassurances. That is why we’ve decided to measure the air pollution ourselves. We will be carrying out measurements in the next few weeks and be making the results available to people. We will do what the regional government refuses to do.”

Concern for those who live and work in Brussels

Karin and Lies, two of the citizens who were concerned by the effect air pollution was having on the health of their families and others and took the legal action along with ClientEarth, said: “We don’t understand why the Brussels government would not measure pollution where citizens are most exposed and try to hide some of the worst results, instead of using them as a clear sign on the wall that Brussels citizens, commuters and tourists need to be better protected from this silent killer.

“Action on air pollution is urgent, and imminently possible. Nobody stands to lose, if everyone’s health stands to gain.”

There are an estimated 600 premature deaths every year in Brussels as a result of air pollution. In a report released this month, the European Commission said the health cost to the whole country of air pollution was upwards of €8 billion.

The legal case is also challenging the regional government’s Plan air climat énergie as it is not strong enough to tackle the illegal levels of air pollution in Brussels. The next stage of the legal case will be heard on November 16.

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