Press release: 6 July 2023

Consumer, health and environmental protection groups urge justice for EU pollution victims in crucial IED vote

A coalition of European organisations protecting consumers, health and environment across Europe have sent an urgent letter to MEPs to entreaty them to introduce vital protection for pollution victims in the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED).

The IED governs over 50,000 installations like steelworks, chemicals and plastics factories, industrial farms and coal plants, all over Europe.

ClientEarth lawyer Bellinda Bartolucci said: “Illegal pollution is on the doorsteps of households across Europe and it’s making people sick. There are elevated rates of cancer around illegally polluting plants, widespread respiratory issues, metal traces found in sick children’s brains – and currently, the people and families affected are still the ones that have to pay the price. It is now up to MEPs to put people’s health first.

“An effective compensation right is a no-brainer – in any other context, a party acting unlawfully should pay for damages caused. The original draft of the EU’s updated industrial emissions law contained a breakthrough clause on evidence that would have allowed people to go to court with a genuine chance of achieving justice. What’s on the table now is already the bare minimum. Without an effective evidence rule, the compensation right is an empty shell and can’t deliver. That’s why MEPs must vote now to preserve the minimum compromise that was found in the ENVI committee.”

Misinformation has been spread widely during the IED overhaul process, eliciting unfounded fear about the consequences for industry of a comprehensive compensation right, and where the onus falls in terms of providing evidence.

Bartolucci said: “The current text explicitly excludes a ‘reversal of burden of proof’, contrary to what industry claims. Stronger procedural rules are nothing new in competition, data or other EU law – and practice has proven that none of them lead to excessive claims. Why should health be protected less?”

EEB Head of Zero Pollution Industry Christian Schaible said: “Members of Parliament should not fall into the trap of being led by fear. The compensation right is limited to human health impacts, caused by illegal pollution only, based on facts that must still be provided by the victim. Law-abiding businesses have nothing to fear. The sanctions available are also capped – based on previous campaigning.

“Citizens will not forgive and forget the politicians who voted against their interests – something MEPs need to remember with elections coming up.”

The IED regulates pollution from industrial facilities which ends up in air, water and soil. The data, particularly on air pollution, is rich in terms of the damage caused each year to EU citizens and, as a result, economies, by this pollution.

Cale Lawlor, Senior Policy Manager for Global Public Health at EPHA, said: “As the most significant and impactful environmental exposure that Europeans face, air pollution severely impacts the health of Europe, and we have a window of opportunity to act decisively now. Only through ambitious policy with a health focus, and through collaboration, investment and strong legislation can we help prevent the health, social and wellbeing impacts of air pollution in Europe.”

In the letter, the organisations say:

“When people’s health suffers as a result of illegal industrial activities or inaction from public authorities, victims should be empowered to go to court and stand a genuine chance of obtaining compensation from those who have violated the law and caused them harm. Today, this is next to impossible. Even in cases of illegal pollution, people suffering from health issues are essentially abandoned because there are no effective, harmonised rules to ask for remedy before the courts, as confirmed by the European Commission.

Bartolucci added: “A compensation right like this in environmental law would be a first – and finally give health and justice a real meaning in EU legislation.”


Notes to editors:

Read the letter here.

The 22 signatories include BEUC, EPHA, EEB, Greenpeace, Water Europe, EurEau and ChemSec.

Watch Bellinda Bartolucci on the need for a comprehensive compensation right in the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED).

Read ClientEarth’s asks for the updated IED.

Read ClientEarth's short 'myth debunking' guide on the IED.

ClientEarth lawyer Madalina Popirtaru on the compensation right.

The compensation right – the evidence rule:

A compensation right only has meaning in practice if it has clear rules on evidence. If a victim has presented sufficient facts, the presumption must be that there is a causal link between the IED violation and the health damage – though the operator can still rebut this presumption. And in instances where evidence is held exclusively by the company, it needs to disclose it – otherwise, it is impossible for the court to make a fair decision. The compensation right as adopted by the ENVI committee does not entail a reversal of burden of proof.  

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.