Wednesday, June 17, 1998 Published at 00:25 GMT 01:25 UK
EU agrees tough emission limits
Four major pollutants have been targetted
European Union environment ministers meeting in Luxembourg have given approval to two strict new laws aimed at curbing air pollution in the region.
The laws are an attempt to combat respiratory diseases and acid rain among the 15-member states.
They are expected to greatly improve the quality of life for sensitive people including asthmatics, children and the elderly.
The first air quality law sets legally-binding limits on four major pollutants based on guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation.
EU governments will have to meet the standards for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and lead by 2005 and for particulates by 2010.
Britain's junior environment minister Angela Eagle said they would have to take action much earlier to achieve the targets.
"Today we have reached an agreement which will make a real difference to the people of Europe and the quality of the air we breathe," the junior minister said in a statement.
Action on acid rain
The second law is designed to cut the amount of sulphur in heavy fuel and gas oil used by European power stations, oil refineries, industrial boilers and furnaces.
The law backs up the EU's strategy to halve effects of acid rain, which damages human health and old buildings, by 2010.
Under the ruling, refineries will have to reduce sulphur in heavy fuel oils to one percent by 2003. Sulphur in gas oils must be cut to 0.2 percent by 2003 and 0.1 percent by 2008.
Industries such as lead smelters on sites that have been contaminated for years will have until 2010 to comply.
"These standards are ambitious and will require a great deal of action by member states," an EU diplomat said.
Governments will also have to undertake to warn the public about air pollution once it exceeds a certain threshold.
The ruling brings Europe into line with Britain which has issued ozone warnings through weather centres for several years.
The limits agreed in Luxembourg would apply from 2005.
The new laws would need the approval of the European Parliament before they could enter into force.
Greece and Spain are the only countries which do not already meet the 0.2 percent ceiling for gas oils.
They and other Mediterranean EU states have won the right to continue burning heavy fuel oils containing up to three percent sulphur and delay reaching the 0.1 percent target for gas oils until 2013.
Officials said the southern countries did not need to meet the tougher targets because acid rain was less of a problem there than in northern states and they did not appear to be contributing to the problem in other areas.
The progress on environmental issues made in Luxembourg was welcomed by Britain which has entered the final days of its EU Presidency.
A spokesman for the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "The environment is exactly the kind of cross-frontier issue which can be dealt with effectively at EU level."