Brussels, 03 October 2017




Günther OETTINGER, Budget and Human Ressources

Karmenu VELLA, Environment


Subject: Concentration of « black carbon » in the main streets of the Brussels Region and consequences for the health of citizens and colleagues


We would like to sincerely thank you for the answer, dated 27 july ( read ) you gave to our concerns about  low quality air in the heart of the European Quarter creating an increased risk to the health of Belgian citizens and colleagues (see our note of 15 June 2017).

Through your decision to circulate your response to all staff via My IntraComm ( read ), you demonstrated to all our colleagues not only that their health and the quality of their work environment are essential to you, but also your commitment to genuine social dialogue. It must be remembered that up now, the Administration had treated the positions taken by the staff representation with its usual nonchalance and so painfully and unnecessarily haughty tone.

You assured us that the Commission has taken this issue very seriously and has therefore sent Belgium a formal notice ( read ) of failure to comply with Directive 2008/50/EC of 21 May 2008 ( read ). And also that this same attention would be reserved by our administration and in particular by OIB services to the maintenance of air conditioning systems of our buildings which play a crucial role in ensuring the air quality in our offices.

In addition, you allowed our colleagues to speak on this issue. We welcome this opening of dialogue and this mode of communication that brings you closer to your staff and its representatives


On 15 September Brussels Environment published a report confirming the high air pollution in the Brussels Capital Region by the black carbon, a heavy polluant

In order to continue this dynamic approach, R&D would like to inform you that on 15 September Brussels Environment released a report on the ExpAIR project  (read) based on the results of a measurement campaign launched in 2013 and completed in April 2017. 273 volunteers permanently wore a portable monitor measuring black carbon (sub-classification of fine particles) during working days. This resulted in the mapping of the Brussels Region, where information on the highly polluted streets can now be accessed.

It is clearly defined that the concentration of this pollutant is higher during peak hours and in “canyon streets” (streets between 2 buildings that do not allow air to circulate).

This new data confirms our November 2016 ( read )  and June 2017 ( read ) comments and supports our concerns about the heavy air pollution on rue de la Loi and rue Belliard (see ExpAir project maps offpealk and peak hours) measuring the highest concentrations of « black carbon ».


Significant health risks for citizens and colleagues

As confirmed by all the scientific studies in this field, black carbon particles present significant health risks (cancer, cardiovascular diseases, etc.) as they can enter the lungs and the blood because of their small size. It acts as a carrier of other pollutants, including polyclinic aromatic hydrocarbons, some of which being recognized as carcinogens (WHO).


The Brussels Ministry of the Environment takes measures … insufficient in the opinion of R&D

In order to remedy  this major problem, the Ministry of the Environment ( read ) is planning in January 2018 to set up a low-emission zone forbidden to the most polluting vehicles and a travel planner for each citizen according to place of residence and place of work.

These measures are the bare minimum that a citizen can hope for from his government to try to keep a full health.


A non-existent mobility policy for the staff of our institution

According to the ExpAIR project report, exposure to black carbon can mainly be found in transport and especially in cars. People walking or traveling by train are the least exposed.

It is essential to develop a genuine mobility policy enabling all citizens and all our colleagues to be able to travel to their workplaces, by limiting the risks arising from air pollution in the European quarter, which has now conclusively been demonstrated.

To this end, the Brussels Region, the Commission and the Institutions must, as a matter of urgency, find alternative solutions to preserve everyone’s health, while opting for healthier transportation means and encouraging research for new clean transportation technologies.


Low exposure in the workplace

In addition, as noted in the report, the lowest exposure to black carbon was measured at the workplace, where buildings are equipped with mechanical ventilation and air intake on the roof.

In view of the above, R&D once again kindly requests your intervention so that:

  • the Commission acts with the Belgian government in setting up the necessary measures to reduce these severe air pollution and to enable all citizens and colleagues to beneffrom their right to live and work in a healthy place without exposure to hazardous and carcinogenic substances;
  • the air quality in offices is healthy and pure according to the European standard EN 13779 ( read )

You also advise us to contact our Belgian trade union confreres so that they could take our approach as an example . We are pleased to inform you that these contacts are already planned, to try to find solutions which would be favorable to all, We will of course keep you posted on the conclusions.

Cristiano Sebastiani,




Mr. M. Selmayr—Chef de cabinet du Président Juncker

Mr. A. Italianer – Secrétaire général

Mrs I. Souka, MM. F. Garcia Ferreiro, C. Roques – DG HR

Mr. M. Mouligneau – OIB

Commission Staff