* London, W. Yorkshire, W. Midlands will comply post-2030
* Deadline for compliance was originally set for 2010
* Nitrogen dioxide harmful to health, caused by diesel fumes
By Nina Chestney
LONDON, July 10 London and two other densely
populated areas in Britain will not meet European Union
pollution limits until after 2030, 20 years after the original
deadline, the bloc's top court heard on Thursday.
Under the EU's Air Quality Directive, member states were
supposed to comply with limits on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in
2010, but could extend that to 2015 if they delivered plans to
deal with high levels of the colourless, odourless gas.
NO2 is mainly produced by diesel engines and is harmful to
A scientific study in the European Respiratory Journal this
year said NO2 could have the same effects on mortality as
another pollutant, particulate matter 2.5, which government
advisers have said causes 29,000 premature deaths in Britain
Data from Britain's Department for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs (Defra) showed late on Wednesday that only five
out of the country's 43 pollution zones will comply with EU
limits on NO2 levels by 2015, and three zones - Greater London,
the West Midlands and West Yorkshire - will not comply until
Defra had previously said London would comply by 2025.
Lawyers representing the European Commission told the
European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Thursday that the case was "a
matter of life and death" and "perhaps the longest-running
infringement of EU law in history."
The ECJ will make a final ruling by the end of the year on
what action Britain needs to take, which will also be binding
for all EU national courts. The case will then go back to the UK
Supreme Court next year for its final judgment.
"Another five years of delay means thousands more people
will die or be made seriously ill. The UK needs to act now to
get deadly diesel vehicles out of our towns and cities," said
Alan Andrews at environmental law firm ClientEarth, which
brought the case against the government.
A spokeswoman for Defra told Reuters the government is
reviewing its efforts to ensure Britain can comply with NO2
limits in the shortest possible time.
In February, the European Commission put more pressure on
Britain by launching a separate but almost identical case to
ClientEarth's for NO2 breaches.
The ECJ is not expected to rule on this until 2016 and could
eventually issue fines which reach hundreds of millions of
euros. However, it is more likely that the ClientEarth case will
force Britain to take action to lower NO2 emissions.
Britain has a particular problem with NO2, but the
Commission is taking action against 17 other member states -
including France, Germany and Sweden - for breaching limits for
particulate matter, another harmful pollutant.
As the ECJ's judgment in the ClientEarth case will come
first, the Commission could use this to accelerate its cases
against other member states.
"This case against Britain is the guinea pig. It begs the
question of who will be next?" Andrews said.
(Editing by Susan Fenton)