Legal situation

In order to protect human health and the environment, the Council of the European Union drew up a directive with air quality standards in April 1999. With the Revision of the Federal Emission Protection Law (Immissionsschutzgesetz-Luft IG-L) the Federal Government transposed this EU Directive into national legislation. The law provides, that a measurement program is to establish if limit values have been exceeded. The Directive establishes limit values for pollutant concentration in order to maintain the air quality. Accordingly, the limit value for particulate matter was set at 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, which may be exceeded on a maximum of 35 days a year. The average annual value for nitrogen dioxide was set at 40 µg/m³. In addition, the Directive introduces a limit on the health effects of fine particulate matter (PM2,5).

© Oliver Weber / pixelio.de

The EU Directive obliges cities and municipalities to draw up action plans for air pollution control. The exceedances for particulate matter (PM10) have decreased in Austria in the last ten years, but the exposure of the population is still too high, especially in urban areas. The main sources are traffic, household heating and industry. The Federal states are responsible to enter measures in the Air Quality Action Plans. These include:

  • Traffic and speed limits
  • Parking management
  • Filter obligation for different types of vehicles
  • Ban on driving

In addition support programmes could be implemented.

Your right to clean air

If the limit values are not met due to the lack of regulations or measures, citizens may legally enforce the implementation of such measures. Initially, affected citizens may send an "application for enactment of comprehensive traffic-related measures to comply with the emission limits" to the governor and the member of the provincial government. If they remain inactive, in the second instance the State Administrative Court will be called. If the request is denied, an appeal may be filed in the same instance. If there is no positive decision a ministerial action will be possible.

Anybody living or working most of their time in a polluted environment may take legal action. This means not only residents but also physicians in medical practices on busy roads, for example, or educators in kindergartens or parents for their children, if the kindergarten is located in an area heavily affected by particulate matters. Environmental organisations may also take action on their own under the Aarhus-Convention.