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EU court says Poland violated air quality laws in 2007-2015

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland has violated European Union law on air quality by continuously exceeding the bloc's pollution limit from 2007 through 2015, a top EU court said Thursday.

In its ruling, the EU Court of Justice urged Poland's government to speed up efforts to improve air quality and cut the health-threatening levels of particulate matter known as PM10. Poland has been dragging feet on cutting reliance on highly pollutant coal, because the fossil fuel is extracted in the country's south, where it's a major source of income.

The court said that during the eight years in question, daily limit values for PM10 presence were exceeded in 35 out of 46 zones tested in Poland, while annual limits were exceeded in nine zones, making it a permanent infringement of the EU's 2008 ambient air quality directive.

It did not impose any fines, but the European Commission, which had sought the court verdict, may weigh in again if Poland does not improve its air quality soon.

In reaction, Poland's government launched a "Stop Smog" program Thursday limiting the use of coal for heating in private homes, believed to be the main source of air pollution.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the program for the thermal insulation of houses is to make "homes warm and air clean" by allowing users to cut reliance on coal by half. He recognized the effort that environment organizations have made over the years to raise the government's and the public's attention to the problem.

Poland is also working to meet the EU requirement of drawing 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, Morawicki said.

The ruling was welcomed by environmental organizations, which said the government is too slow in fighting smog, said to contribute to the deaths of some 47,000 people a year in Poland.

"We hope that the government will put the interests of all Poles over the interest of the coal industry," ClientEarth lawyer Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan said in a statement.

The PM10 is composed of a mixture of tiny particles of organic and non-organic substances that can get into the respiratory tract and the lungs, and may contain toxic substances, the court said.

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