By Kate Abnett
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission will take Bulgaria and Greece to the EU Court of Justice after both countries breached air pollution limits for years despite multiple warnings, the Commission said on Thursday.
The two cases are the latest in a string of EU legal actions over poor air quality in countries including France, Italy and Romania, as Brussels seeks to clamp down on violations that threaten human health and the bloc's pollution targets.
The Commission said it will refer Bulgaria to the EU's top court for exceeding legal limits on particulate matter from 2015-2019 even after the court ordered the country's government to address the issue in 2017. Bulgaria could face financial penalties for flouting the earlier ruling.
Bulgaria is one of the heaviest offenders in the European Union in terms of exceeding both annual and daily limits on particulate matter, the Commission said.
EU laws have required countries to limit particulate matter pollution since 2005. However, most of the bloc's 27 members are set to miss targets this year to tackle dirty air.
The Commission also referred Greece to the court for exceeding particulate matter limits in the city of Thessaloniki for all but one year since 2005.
"Efforts by the Greek authorities have to date been unsatisfactory and insufficient," it said.
Air pollution is the biggest environmental health risk in Europe. Particulate matter contributed to around 379,000 premature deaths in 2018 in the EU, although this was 13% lower than in 2009, the European Environment Agency said in a recent report.
The Commission also referred Poland to the EU's top court on Thursday for failing to protect forests and the wildlife that live there.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Hugh Lawson)