Wednesday 15 February 2017 13.04 GMT
The European commission has sent a “final warning” to the UK for failing to address repeated breaches of legal air pollution limits in 16 areas including London, Birmingham, Leeds, and Glasgow.
The UK is one of five countries served with the warning over persistent breaches of nitrogen dioxide ((NO2) levels, which come from sources including factories and vehicles, particularly diesel engines.
Air pollution is linked to the early deaths of about 40,000 people a year in the UK and causes problems such as heart and lung diseases and asthma.
The commission said that if the countries failed to take action on the issue within two months, it may decide to take the matter to the European court of justice.
A European commission spokesman Enrico Brivio told a briefing in Brussels: “It is a warning that we send to member states asking to comply, to take measures to fight this poor air quality that provokes respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease. It is an important factor on the health of citizens.
“So we ask the UK, as the other four member states, to take appropriate measures to fight this type of air pollution and we hope they comply.”
Asked whether the UK would remain bound by any legal proceedings after Brexit, the commission’s spokesman Alexander Winterstein said: “For as long as the UK is a member of the European Union, rights and obligations apply. European law applies fully.”
The warning comes as campaigners ranging from health workers to environmentalists ramp up calls for the government to take action on air pollution, demanding a new Clean Air Act and a crackdown on diesel vehicles.