The European Commission has written to 23 European Union (EU) member states to request information on actions they are taking to comply with the EU's air quality standard for dangerous airborne particles known as PM10.
These coarse particles, emitted by industry and traffic, can cause asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death.
All the 23 members overshot the PM10 limit in 2006, according to a news release posted on the EU website Tuesday.
The commission's action follows the coming into force on June 11 of a new EU air quality directive, which establishes ambitious targets for improving human health and environmental quality up to 2020.
"The entry into force of the new directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe marks a new phase in the implementation and enforcement of air quality standards," said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
However, as many EU members are facing difficulties in complying with some of the bloc's air quality standards, the new directive allows them to apply for time extensions for compliance, which will only be granted if trans-boundary pollution and adverse climatic conditions are involved.
In the case of PM10, the time extension can run until June 10, 2011.
It is estimated that on average 40 percent of air quality zones in the EU currently do not comply with the PM10 standard.
EU members which do not need to report to the commission on a Sept.30 deadline include Ireland and Luxembourg, which did not exceed the PM10 standard in 2006, and Bulgaria and Romania, which did not join the EU until 2007.