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The EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directive outlines limits for eight different pollutants, one of them being Particulate Matter (PM10) which consists of very fine dust. For this pollutant, the directive sets two limit values, a daily limit value and an annual limit value. The daily limit value can be exceeded 35 times in one calendar year, but if more exceedances are registered, then the Member State will have to take corrective measures.

In 2008, 52 exceedances of the daily limit value were registered, and Malta applied for an extension of the deadline for the applicability of the limit value till the 2011, and also forwarded evidence regarding the natural origin of 22 out of the registered 52 exceedances.

The European Commission has recently confirmed that it has accepted Malta's arguments regarding the exceedances due to natural phenomena and, as a consequence, Malta withdrew its time extension application.

This conclusion was reached by the Commission following scientific analysis that MEPA carried out on the source of PM10 in Malta. It resulted that 22 of Malta’s exceedances were attributed to natural sources from the Sahara dust and sea spray. Therefore, it was concluded that in 2008 Malta had 30 exceedances, which is within the allowed 35 exceedances per year.

The daily limit value can be exceeded only 35 times per calendar year. This means that the average daily ambient levels of PM10 must be less that 50 ug/m3 90.4 per cent of the time. A Member State registering more than 35 exceedances per calendar year is expected to take corrective measures in order to realign the levels of this pollutant with the requirements of this Directive.

The Directive allows Member States to apply for a time extension to comply with this obligation. In addition, Member States are allowed to remove exceedances attributable to natural sources from the list of exceedances reported to the European Commission, because there is nothing a Member State can do to control natural sources.

The Commission can only accept to remove such exceedances, once the Member State in question concludes and submits to the Commission a rigorous scientific analysis, using a specific methodology suggested by the Commission  in order to prove its case.

Although these results show that Malta compliant with this Air Quality Directive, Malta still fully committed to the implementation of the Air Quality Plan, that was prepared by MEPA in collaboration with MITC so as to avoid possible future exceedances and improve air quality. These measures include: restricting the circulation of public transport vehicles to Euro III buses, avoiding development intensification and reduction of emissions from construction amongst other things.