Press release: 21 April 2021

Brussels groups call for greater pollution action as coroner confirms lax laws are killer

A UK coroner has issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report, asking the UK government to align legal limits for air pollution with the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines to save lives.

The report follows the coroner’s December ruling confirming that the UK’s illegal levels of air pollution from traffic contributed to the death of 9-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah.

The coroner’s assessment not only has implications on how air pollution should be tackled in the UK, but in cities across Europe – including Brussels.

Responding to the coroner’s report, ClientEarth’s head of clean air Ugo Taddei said: “Pollution is often touted as an ‘invisible killer’ but for a long time the Brussels authorities have been well aware of where harmful emissions are coming from and the impacts they are having on people’s health. All the while, solutions have been at their fingertips: strengthening the Low Emission Zone would quickly remove the most polluting vehicles from our roads.

“Toxic air is clearly not going to disappear on its own. The Brussels government needs to do right by its commitment to align air quality standards with the WHO guidelines so that people in Brussels can safely breathe clean and healthy air and prevent lives like Ella’s being cut short.”

Elodie Mertz, air quality and mobility expert at Greenpeace Belgium, said: “Correctly measuring air pollution and communicating its harmful effects is a must and only the first steps towards the ambitious measures that must be taken by local, regional and national authorities in each country. Among these measures, we need more and better alternatives to cars and the phase-out of combustion engine traffic by 2030 at the very latest. Not doing so would be detrimental to our health, particularly children, like Ella.”

Tim Cassiers from BRAL said: “This report should push the Brussels government to live up to the promise it made to the people of Brussels to align its air quality standards with the WHO guidelines. The UK coroner shows that this is the right way forward, as did the European Parliament last month. We ask the Brussels region to prevent future deaths by making the WHO guidelines on air quality legally binding and by continuing to develop policies like Smart.Move, which reduce car traffic.”

Eva Zemmour from Les Chercheurs d’air said: “This sad story reminds us that air pollution kills, literally. It is our representatives’ duty not only to inform us about the quality of the air we breathe, but to protect us from it when it is polluted. Unfortunately, when it comes to putting in place ambitious clean air measures, Brussels is lagging behind. The region must follow the examples from other European cities such as Paris, London and Amsterdam and create a stronger low emission zone by 2030 at the latest. Doing so, would save hundreds of lives every year.”


Notes to editors:

Air pollution is recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the biggest environmental health risk in the world.

Brussels was ranked among the top 10 cities with the worst health impacts from exposure to air pollution in Europe.

As part of the National Energy and Climate Plan, the Brussels government announced its intention to ban the circulation of diesel vehicles in the Capital region by 2030 and petrol vehicles by 2035. 

In the Brussels Regional Government’s Coalition agreement, the government committed to “align and converge the thresholds currently set for all pollutants to the values recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).”

Last month, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the European Commission to align EU legal standards for air quality with WHO guidelines.

According to the latest report from the European Environment Agency, air pollution (PM2.5) was responsible for almost 7,500 premature deaths in Belgium in 2018 alone. In 2018, the premature deaths related to exposure to NO2 in Belgium was 1,200.

According to a report published by CE Delft in October 2020, air pollution costs on average almost €1,400 every year for each Brussels citizen.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.

About Greenpeace Belgium

Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace. Greenpeace does not accept donations from governments, the EU, businesses or political parties.

About BRAL

BRAL is an urban movement striving to make Brussels more sustainable. From mobility to urban planning, we place the people of Brussels at the heart of our work. We inform them and put their initiatives in the spotlight. We defend our common interests with the government – from the discussion table to the streets. We are critical but constructive, a bit rebellious but always nuanced.

About Les chercheurs d’air

Les Chercheurs d’air is a Brussels based non-profit organisation dedicated to raising awareness about air quality through collaborative science campaigns along with schools and citizens. Between October 2020 and 2021, we have been measuring nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations in 130 points throughout the Brussels-capital region.