At ENDS we are used to condensing heavyweight documents and complex situations into far more digestible material. But I doubt we have ever managed to reduce anything to a mere 22 words.

Simon Birkett, who heads the Campaign for Clean Air in London, managed to do just this on 23 February, in a post on microblogging website Twitter:

Hope @JanezPotocnikEU has seen Marylebone Rd already shows 12 exceedences [sic] of PM10 daily limit value vs 9 by now in 2010

To translate:

The concentration of coarse particulates (PM10) by London’s notoriously polluted Marylebone road has exceeded 50 micrograms per cubic metre, averaged over a 24 hour period, on 12 occasions this year. The permissible number of times this may happen, under EU legislation which entered force in 2005, is only 35 times a year. It has been breached every year since in several parts of the capital, as has the annual average limit of 40 µg/m3.

The government has a probably forlorn hope of persuading European Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik to disregard the UK’s historic breaches and establish a new deadline for meeting the standards by 11 June this year.

But this attempt has been rejected once already. Nevertheless, the environment department (DEFRA) is still scrabbling to get it – as evidenced by its struggle to keep potentially embarrassing information out of public hands.

The UK’s application hinges on persuading the commissioner that there will be no more breaches from June. But two months into 2011, the Marylebone road site has already experienced half of the total number of exceedances it detected in the whole of 2010, according to London’s air quality information website.

Although the monitoring results are no guarantee that the time extension will not be granted, it can hardly inspire confidence that it will be. The UK could find itself receiving its first ever fine from the European Court of Justice – which could end up being shouldered by Londoners themselves, under the terms of the Localism Bill.

Mr Potočnik’s decision is expected within the next couple of weeks.

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