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Shocking levels of Brussels pollution revealed

Air quality measurements carried out by ClientEarth have revealed shockingly high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) on the streets of Brussels and alarming flaws in the city’s official monitoring network.

Concentrations of the gas, which in Brussels comes mostly from diesel vehicles, were in places almost two and a half times the legal limit and almost double the highest official records published by the authorities.

ClientEarth measured NO2 levels at various points on four different streets of the Belgian capital: Rue Belliard, Rue de la Loi, Arts-Loi and Avenue des Arts. In all but one location – outside the European Parliament, well away from the road – there were illegal and harmful levels of pollution.

Outside the US Embassy, ClientEarth recorded levels just under 100 μg/m3 on average during the measurement period. The legal limit is an annual mean of 40 μg/m3. On Rue de la Loi concentrations were above 90 μg/m3.

During the same period, the highest official records published by the authority responsible for air quality, Bruxelles Environnement were just over 50 μg/m3.

ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “These are simply shocking levels of air pollution. By hiding the real state of the air in the capital, the Brussels government is exposing all of us to unacceptable health risks.

“Brussels citizens’ right to clean air has been denied for too long. The Brussels government has a legal and moral obligation to immediately correct the alarming flaws in its monitoring network. As it stands, they are not giving us an accurate picture of air quality in the city.

“The authorities must also adopt urgent and ambitious measures to bring the levels of air pollution within the legal limits in the shortest time possible.”

Exposure Data
Location Date On Date Off μg/m3
Belliard  19/02/2017  20/03/2017  69.22
Rue De La Loi 19/02/2017  20/03/2017  91.01
Arts-Loi 19/02/2017 20/03/2017  71.93
Avenue Des Arts (US Embassy) 19/02/2017 20/03/2017  99.44
Esplanade European Parliament 19/02/2017 20/03/2017  30.96

Illegal levels of pollution

ClientEarth, along with five Brussels residents, has taken legal action against the Brussels government for failing to deal with illegal levels of air pollution in the capital and failing to monitor it effectively.

Karin De Schepper and Lies Craeynest, who live in Brussels and who are claimants in the legal case, said: “These results show that the situation is much more serious than we thought. We’re worried that children and other vulnerable groups are breathing toxic air on a daily basis, causing irreparable damage to their health.

“We expect our government to properly inform and protect its citizens. The Brussels Region has announced a first package of measures. We’re counting on the Region and municipalities to combine their efforts as soon as possible and step up ambition. These alarming results show once again that we need effective policies to make healthy mobility easy and attractive for all. Nobody stands to lose, if everyone’s health stands to gain.”

Under the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive, levels of nitrogen dioxide should not exceed an annual average (mean) of 40 μg/m3.  The Directive also requires authorities to measure air pollution in the areas where people will be exposed to the highest levels.

Official monitoring stations in Rue Belliard and Arts-Loi in the past registered very high NO2 concentrations, but were turned off in 2013 and 2008 respectively. The monitor in Arts-Loi was switched on again following the launch of ClientEarth and the Brussels citizens’ legal action.

However, the Brussels authorities have announced that they do not want to officially measure air quality in Arts-Loi and Rue Belliard and will not use the data collected for checking compliance with levels of air pollution set by the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive.

They are proposing, however, to measure air quality in the Esplanade of the European Parliament, far away from traffic, the main source of pollution in the capital.

ClientEarth has since published the full dataset and methodology used for the study, in response to criticisms raised by the Environment Minister.

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