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ClientEarth goes to court to defend Brussels residents’ right to breathe clean air

ClientEarth and five local residents have taken their battle to court today against the Brussels regional government for failing to address illegal levels of air pollution and inadequately monitoring toxic air in the city.

The judge said that the result would be announced no later than 15 December 2017. This is a month earlier than expected.

Launched in September 2016, the legal case calls for Brussels authorities to comply with EU law and produce an effective plan to clean up the city’s air ‘as soon as possible’.

It also aims to oblige the authorities to address the illegal flaws in the air monitoring network in the city and ensure air pollution is measured where people are exposed to the highest concentrations.

ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “For too long, the Brussels authorities have failed to take air pollution seriously and, in doing so, they have put the people living and working here at risk. That’s why today we have asked the court to order immediate action.”

Dodging the issue?

Today in court, the Brussels regional government continued to dispute the true extent of the air pollution issue in Brussels. The regional authorities also asked the court to delay the decision, arguing that certain measures to tackle air pollution fall outside of their remit. They say the involvement of the Federal government is needed.

But the judge said that he is ready to reach a decision with no further delay.

Taddei added: “The situation in Brussels is clear – denying that air pollution exceeds legal limits is hugely irresponsible. We are extremely pleased that a decision will be reached next month. The people of Brussels have been waiting far too long to breathe clean air while their government continues to drag its feet.

“What we urgently need is an ambitious, detailed and robust air quality plan that ensures compliance with air quality limit values in the shortest time possible.”

The legal challenge focuses on nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which in cities comes mostly from diesel vehicles.

Air pollution: a public health crisis

An estimated 75,000 premature deaths were linked to NO2 pollution in the EU in 2014. Air pollution has been shown to cause cancer and is linked to stunted lung growth in children, dementia and diabetes.

Levels of NO2 in Brussels have breached legal limits since 2010. Despite this, the latest data reveals that concentrations of NO2 have remained stable over the years and that the Brussels authorities have failed to take significant steps to improve air quality.

The Brussels authorities have also failed to consistently monitor the busiest and most polluted streets, hiding the true extent of the air pollution problem from the public.

Independent studies carried out by ClientEarth showed that concentrations of NO2 in some places were double the highest official records published by the authorities.

One of the claimants, Lies Craeynest said: “Every day, when I take my kids to school through some of the most polluted streets in Brussels, I think about the impact traffic fumes have on the little lungs of my children. It makes me proud to be part of the court case so that I can help solve this problem.”

Karin DeSchepper, another claimant added: “We desperately need more action in Brussels and when I see what other cities are doing to improve their air quickly, I am hopeful we can do the same in Brussels. I hope the Brussels regional government will pick up speed in cleaning up our air, so we can all breathe safely.”

The Brussels court case forms part of a wave of legal actions on clean air across Europe, including cases in Germany, Italy and Poland. ClientEarth has recently filed a new case against the UK government for failure to improve its air quality plan. This follows two successful cases won by ClientEarth against the UK central government over the country’s illegal air pollution.

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David Marcu