The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, said it chose to refer Hungary, Italy and Romania to the Court of Justice over persistently high levels of particulate matter.
Defending the government's record on air pollution today, a spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "We continue to meet European Union air quality limits for all pollutants apart from nitrogen dioxide, and data shows we are improving thanks to our efforts to bring levels of NO2 down".
However, EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella told a press conference in Brussels the six, which include Europe's top four economies, had not acted quickly enough.
He said: "The news that the European Commission will be taking the UK Government to court for unsafe levels of air pollution should be a wake-up call".
The EC said it is taking action to "address the significant and persistent exceedances of limit values for two key pollutants with health impacts: nitrogen dioxide, which is mostly a result of road traffic and industry, and particulate matter, which is mainly present in emissions from industry, domestic heating, traffic, and agriculture".
The European Commission is taking Britain, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Romania to the EU Court of Justice for failing to respect air quality limits.
The Luxembourg-based court can impose heavy fines.
"But it can not be in our interest to weaken the automobile sector to such an extent that it no longer has the strength to invest in its own future".
The commission has been urging the wayward member countries to establish incentives for the transport, energy and agricultural sector as well as improve urban planning and building design.
News that the United Kingdom government is to face legal proceedings over its failure to meet air quality limits should act as a "wake-up call" for more action on the issue, politicians and campaigners have claimed.
The European Environmental Bureau, an umbrella grouping of environmental activists, has described the nine countries summoned in January as a "toxic bloc".
But he warned the commission was keeping the three under review.
But she added that the process behind legal action should be "far more transparent" to allow citizens to know why some countries are taken to court and others not.
"It is disappointing that not all nine countries called in for a meeting with the Commission in January have been referred today".
Twenty-three of the 28 EU member countries exceed air quality norms, the European Commission said.
Compared with anticipated 2019 levels, the emissions will have to be 15 percent lower in 2025 and at least 30 percent in 2030.