‘Dutch minister lies about cancer-causing emissions from aviation’

Published by SchipholWatch on 9 May 2022

Recently, minister Mark Harbers (Infrastructure) has argued several times that the emission of carcinogenic substances from aircraft falls under the nondescript Aviation Act and not under stricter environmental legislation. That is an outright lie, according to SchipholWatch’s own research.

(photo: dsleeter_2000 via flickr)

In the immediate vicinity of Schiphol alone, this involves 280,000 kilograms of toxic emissions every year. In mid-February Harbers answered questions in the House of Representatives about hazardous emissions: ‘Emissions as a result of aircraft movements are not included in the minimization and information obligation and therefore don’t apply to these emissions. Emissions from aircraft are regulated through the Aviation Act.’

SchipholWatch has previously questioned the minister’s view, because it is completely against common sense and even against the literal legal texts. After all, why should emissions that are dangerous for millions of people not be covered by appropriate legislation?

In March of this year, Harbers repeated his controversial vision in the House: ‘Substances of very high concern are also released on or near the apron during activities related to flight operations, i.e. when taxiing, taking off and landing aircraft. The Aviation Act applies to these activities and not the rules from environmental legislation.’

No rules for carcinogenic emissions

The minister therefore reiterates time and again the position that flight movements should not fall under the Environmental Management Act, but under the Aviation Act of his own ministry. However, that law says little about carcinogenic emissions.

Most of the emitted substances are not even named in the law and there are no limits to their emissions. There is also no obligation to avoid the release of those substances as much as possible, to report on them periodically and to minimize them as much as possible. Such obligations are included in the Environmental Management Act.

‘Like all residents of the Netherlands, residents near airports are protected by legislation and regulations against the harmful effects of air pollution. The most important act is the Environmental Management Act, which sets limit values ​​for the concentrations of various air-polluting substances such as nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and other substances such as CO, SO2 and benzene. There are as yet no standards for ultra fine particles.’

This document is not just a document, but part of the memorandum that determines aviation policy for the next 30 years until 2050. Such a document was not put together overnight. The citizen and the House must be able to assume that the document has been prepared with great care and that it contains no errors of this magnitude.

The minister’s answers to questions about carcinogenic emissions from air traffic therefore raise many questions. How can this minister continue to claim that these emissions are not covered by the Environmental Management Act? It therefore seems very likely that the minister has (again) misinformed the House of Representatives

SchipholWatch hopes that the House will also demand answers to these questions from the minister. After all, it concerns an important subject: the health of hundreds of thousands of citizens living around airports.

If this suspicion is confirmed, it will have far-reaching consequences for aviation policy. Growth of air traffic will then by definition become impossible. After all, the law obliges to continuously reduce dangerous emissions. This is not (sufficiently) possible with technical improvements to aircraft engines. As with the Dutch nitrogen problem, this will act as a brake on the plans of the aviation sector.

End of the hub

Also important: under the Environmental Management Act, major question marks can be raised about the desirability of Schiphol as a hub. After all, emissions of toxic substances can be largely prevented by facilitating fewer transfer passengers at Schiphol.

It seems that the civil servants of I&W are well aware of the fact that the emission of carcinogenic substances is the next barrier to growth of the aviation sector so beloved there. And that is why they sent the minister to the House of Representatives with misleading information.

It is up to the House to get to the bottom of this. After all, in the previous government Harbers had to resign from his position after he had incorrectly informed the House on another topic.

SchipholWatch is a foundation that fights for a better living environment and therefore against the further growth of Schiphol at its current location.