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BRUSSELS, April 5 (Reuters) - Europe's highest court on Wednesday said Bulgaria had breached limits for hazardous air pollutants, a ruling environmental groups said would help in their efforts to force countries to take action over poor air quality.
The European Court of Justice said higher concentrations of particulate matter - small dust particles blamed for breathing problems and heart disease - recorded at several sites in Bulgaria from 2007 to 2014 showed severe breaches of EU clean air quality rules.
There were no fines attached to the ruling.
Apart from Bulgaria, the European Union executive has begun legal action against 15 countries over breaches of air quality standards, including particulate matter. The ECJ is currently reviewing a case against Poland.
The ruling, the first time the Court has endorsed EU air pollution rules, was seized upon by campaigners as a precedent for other cases.
"The Court of Justice has opened the door for major progress in Europe's fight for clean air and clarified that people's health comes first," Ugo Taddei, a lawyer for ClientEarth, said.
Bulgaria will now have to work with the European Commission to improve the situation.
The Commission has estimated premature deaths attributable to air pollution in 2013 at 13,700 in Bulgaria and around 400,000 in the EU as a whole. (Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek. Editing by Jane Merriman)