Press release: 5 March 2021

New maps reveal toxic air in Brussels has been going undetected

Environmental lawyers at ClientEarth have reacted to new air quality maps published today by Belgian Interregional Environment Agency (IRCEL-CELINE), saying they confirm the urgent need to fix serious gaps in the city’s pollution monitoring network.

According to the new data, there are illegal and harmful levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in all major roads across Brussels, such as along the Petite Ceinture, Rue de la Loi, and the E40 between Avenue Reyers and the border with the Flemish Region.

The new maps also show that in 2019, levels of fine particles (PM2.5) exceeded World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations throughout the Brussels region’s territory.

The news comes soon after a win in court for ClientEarth and five local residents in a legal battle for the right to clean air in Brussels.

Responding to the data, ClientEarth’s head of clean air Ugo Taddei said: “These new findings hammer home what we argued in court with local residents – Brussels residents are not being protected from toxic air because the authorities have not been tracking it properly.

“The data leaves no doubt that there are illegal levels of pollution throughout Brussels and supports the regional authorities’ recent decision to put in two new monitoring stations – especially along the Petite Ceinture. These new monitoring stations must be installed as soon as possible to ensure harmful levels of pollution no longer go undetected in the capital.

“The maps should also encourage the Brussels government to do right by their commitment to align air quality standards with the World Health Organization’s guidelines so that people in Brussels can safely breathe clean and healthy air.”


Notes to editors:

IRCEL-CELINE’s new map for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can be found here and for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) here.

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.

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.

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

In January, ClientEarth and five local residents won a five-year legal battle for clean air in Brussels. The Brussels First Instance Tribunal ruled that the Brussels regional government had breached EU law by failing to correctly monitor and protect the health of its citizens against harmful levels of air pollution. The authorities have been ordered to take immediate action to address the issue.

The Brussels government has been ordered to install one or more monitoring stations along the city’s most polluted traffic arteries within the next six months – including along the Petite Ceinture, Rue de la Loi and the E40 between Avenue Reyers and the border with the Flemish Region – or face a penalty of €300 for every day of delay.

Responding to questions in Parliament on 3 March 2021, Minister Maron announced that the government will install two new monitoring stations on the Petite Ceinture and in Avenue Charles-Quint by August and October, respectively.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.