Times of Malta Editorial – 4 March 2010

A petition has just been presented to the European Parliament by Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil calling for a formal investigation into the dust pollution from building construction, which is choking areas of the island. At the same time, Labour MEP Louis Grech has called on the Commission to investigate the black dust pollution in the Fgura area.

Both MEPs are at one in saying that Malta is in breach of the EU’s air quality directives.

Dr Busuttil has asked the EP Petitions Committee to investigate the complaint. He also called on the European Parliament to take the necessary measures to ensure the law and limits on air quality are upheld in Malta, charging that “for far too long, the construction industry has been left free to do as it pleases under the dubious pretext that regulating this sector could somehow pose a threat to economic activity”. He pledged in The Times yesterday that he would not hesitate pressing for infringement proceedings against his own country if that is what it takes to improve air quality.

Well said! Air pollution exacerbates Malta’s growing environmental deficit. Living continuously under a mantle of noise and dust, compounded by vehicle fumes and power plant pollution, is both a health hazard and a cause of stress.

It is most commendable that two MEPs from two different parties are prepared to take up the cause of their constituents on this issue. The threat to health is very real.

The fact that the European Commission was not taking any action, despite admitting that Malta was breaching its directives, is compounded only by the consistent irresponsibility – over several years – of the authorities’ failure to act to deal with air quality and poisonous air pollution in this country.

A report by the Today Public Policy Institute 20 months ago dealt comprehensively, inter alia, with proposals for the reduction of urban air pollution, its nature and its adverse effects on health. Yet, those responsible – the departments of public health, resources, transport and infrastructure – appear unable, or, perhaps, for some reason, unwilling, to tackle the problem. With so many big fingers in the air pollution pie this may partly explain the lack of coordinated action and political will.

But one of the attractions of the Prime Minister’s promise to overcome Malta’s environmental deficit was that, in future, he personally would have oversight and leadership over the environment. Alas, not a lot seems to have been achieved. There is need for him to energise inter-ministerial coordination and action to ensure air quality in Malta is improved.

In a timely statement, Din l-Art Ħelwa, a foremost heritage and environmental organisation, passed a resolution on pollution and health at its AGM last Saturday urging action. It said that “in view of the fact that the links between environmental pollution and health problems, including allergies such as asthma, infections, chronic disease of the lungs, foetal abnormalities and cancer, are increasingly prevalent, the government is urged to ensure there is stricter control and enforcement of existing regulations to reduce dust emissions from quarries and building sites and to remove from the roads the multitude of vehicles which are emitting toxic fumes”. This is indeed what is urgently needed.

As Dr Busuttil and Mr Grech have so aptly stressed, the time has come for Maltese citizens to have cleaner air. Thus, their call for a proper EU investigation and that limits on air quality are rigorously applied in Malta must certainly enjoy all-round backing.