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The European Parliament has approved a new legislation to cut harmful vapor emissions at fuel stations. Petrol vapour contains a mix of hydrocarbons including benzene, which is a human carcinogen with no known safe threshold. It also contributes to the so-called ground-level ozone, one of the most damaging air pollutant.
Human exposure to ozone – estimated to cause the premature death of almost 370,000 citizens every year and reduce average life expectancy by nine months – has effects ranging from irritation of the respiratory system to inflammation of the lungs and, in acute cases affecting the most vulnerable people, even death. No safe level of exposure to ozone has yet been determined. Regarding the environment, ozone damage is the most serious regional air pollution problem affecting forests, vegetation and agricultural crops in Europe.
An air quality limit value for benzene will enter into force in the EU in 2010.
The directive will require so-called Stage II petrol vapour recovery (PVR) technologies to be fitted to petrol pumps at all service stations with an annual petrol throughput greater than 500 cubic metres per year. Service stations situated underneath residential accommodation will also need to install this equipment if their throughput is above 100 cubic metres per year, a quantity corresponding to about six cars filling up each day. The fitting is due when service stations are either built or substantially renovated.
The largest existing stations, with a throughput greater than 3000 cubic metres per year, will also have to implement Stage II PVR, by 2018 at the latest.
In addition, the directive requires service stations to post signs informing the public about the operation of Stage II equipment which should help ensure its correct operation in practice.
Stage II PVR equipment is already installed in petrol stations in about half the Member States. The directive will extend this practice to the whole of the EU, cutting emissions further.
Inside a car’s petrol tank, petrol vapour exists above the liquid petrol. When the car is refuelled this vapour is displaced and escapes to the atmosphere. Stage II PVR captures this escaping vapour. This is done by creating a vacuum to suck back the vapour through the dispensing hose and nozzle, either to the station’s underground storage tank or directly back to the fuel pump. This latter technology is newer and does not require any modification of the underground pipe work of the service station.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said “This directive will improve the protection of European citizens’ health by contributing to the attainment of agreed EU air quality standards for two harmful pollutants, ground level ozone and benzene. The rapid agreement reached by Parliament and Council on the basis of the Commission’s proposal from last December underlines the EU’s continuing commitment to tackling air pollution at source.”