The European Parliament on Wednesday backed a new draft law to cut toxins in the air and halve the number of premature deaths caused by pollution.
Environment campaigners, however, said the plans are too conservative and the proposed limits for emissions are above safe levels agreed by the World Health Organization.
Implementation is also expected to be a challenge as many of the 28 member states are already in breach of weaker existing EU air pollution law, while the Volkswagen scandal has drawn public attention to emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) that far exceed official levels.
The new law, which still needs endorsement by member states, sets national limits on major pollutants, including dust and NOx until 2030.
After opposition from the farming lobby, the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg voted to include ammonia and methane but exclude enteric methane emitted by ruminant animals.
European Commission data shows more than 400,000 premature deaths a year in the European Union are linked to air pollution, which causes respiratory disease and some forms of cancer. The number should halve if the draft law takes effect, the Commission says.
EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella welcomed the vote as “a positive step towards an agreement on new ambitious yet realistic EU rules”.
Environment campaigners, however, said the members of the European Parliament had missed the opportunity to save more lives and reduce costs to society.
“With the Volkswagen scandal fresh in their minds, MEPs had a major opportunity to right a wrong and take action to clean up Europe’s air,” said Louise Duprez, senior policy officer for air pollution at the European Environmental Bureau.