European Commission sets limits to acid rain causers

Mar 12, 1997 01:00 AM

The European Commission agreed recently on a plan to cut the corrosive effects of acid rain in the EU by the year 2010, using limits on countries' emissions of various pollutants and tighter fuel quality rules to do so. Central to the plan, which needs EU ministerial and European parliamentary approval before adoption, will be an attempt to halve the business-as-usual scenario for damage to sensitive areas in Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.
"Current predictions indicate that the extent of the affected areas in 2010 would, in the absence of the strategy, be 8.7 million hectares. With the strategy this will be reduced to 4.5 million hectares," the Commission said in a statement.
Acidification, which came to wide public attention in the 1980s amid pictures of dying European forests and lakes devoid of life, occurs as the result of air pollution from SO2, NOx and ammonia. Combustion plants account for 90 % of SO2 emissions while intensive farming produces nearly all the ammonia. The picture for NOx is more complex, with road transport emitting 51 %, combustion plants 32 % and other transport modes 12 %. "These acidifying substances can be carried by winds for hundreds and even thousands of kilometres (miles) before being deposited in the environment," the draft text said. Pollutants' combined effects can be to kill off various animals and plants, leach out soil nutrients and cause increased concentrations of aluminium and other toxic metals in the soil, underground and surface water.
Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy and France are, in descending order, the EU's worst SO2 polluters, a picture repeated in the top two positions for NOx for a list which includes France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands among the leaders. Germany also heads the ammonia emissions league followed by France, Italy, Spain, Britain and the Netherlands.
The draft strategy proposes national emissions targets for each pollutant, a task the Commission said would be completed during next year. The national limits approach would allow EU capitals to choose for themselves the best ways to meet targets rather than having to follow source-by-source measures for each gas. The draft proposals also include tighter rules on allowed levels of sulphur in heavy fuel oil and gas oil, use of the former being responsible for nearly 20 % of SO2 emissions. Much of Greece and Portugal, and possibly parts of Italy and Spain, would be exempt from the heavy fuel rules, as would power stations using suitable sulphur-scrubbing equipment.
The EU executive said costs caused by the heavy fuel norms would amount to 760 million European currency units (ECU) ($ 866 mm) per year by 2010, with the major burden falling on refineries (149 mm ECU), power plants (291 million ECU), transport (49 million ECU), domestic users (75 million ECU) and "other industry" (196 million ECU).
The Commission admits that even if its strategy is carried out fully, the acidification problem will not have gone away.

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