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Air quality data

As of the end of the year, vehicle access is set to be regulated in 40 municipalities around Barcelona during episodes of high air pollution

21/04/2017 10:04

The Ministry of Territory and Sustainability has released the air quality data for Catalonia in 2016. In general, the region is meeting the majority of the objectives established by the regulatory standards. Of the 15 pollutants evaluated, most of the levels recorded were significantly lower than the maximum values permitted. The data represents a compilation of 673 automatic measurements and over one thousand manual measurements supplied by the Catalan Air Pollution Monitoring and Forecasting Network (XVPCA), located at 127 measurement points in 82 municipalities.

However, as has historically occurred, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the Barcelona conurbation exceeded certain limits set by the European Union. In the case of NO2, the trend has stabilised in recent years, while a downward trend has been observed in terms of particle emissions, although the values recommended by the World Health Organisation have not been met.

Stable levels for the main pollutants

In the air quality zones (AQZ) 1 (Barcelona area) and 2 (Vallès-Baix Llobregat), in general terms, NO2 levels have remained stable over recent years. Levels recorded at some monitoring stations in those areas have not complied with the established annual limit value (set at 40 micrograms/m3) for a number of years, as is common in major European cities. By contrast, the hourly limit value for this pollutant was not exceeded in Catalonia's urban areas, as occurred in other major cities as a result of their more pronounced continental climate and more marked episodic phenomena. These breaches are regarded as a major issue within the European Commission and generate intense debate in terms of their resolution.

The Ministry of Territory and Sustainability has spent many years working to reduce this air pollutant in the Barcelona conurbation by means of its 2020 action plan for improving air quality and Air Quality Board. At the beginning of March this year, the Government of Catalonia, the Barcelona City Council, Àrea Metropolitana de Barcelona (AMB), the Barcelona Provincial Council and local representatives approved a series of commitments to reduce traffic-related emissions by 30% within a 15-year timeframe.

The first measure in place for application as of December will take the form of restrictions imposed on passenger vehicles that are more than 20 years old and vans more than 23 years old with regard to circulating on interurban roads in the Barcelona conurbation during high air pollution episodes. These represent the highest polluting vehicle groups. According to the Government of Catalonia's Guidelines with regard to calculating pollutant emissions, by way of example, a petrol-engine passenger vehicle manufactured before the Euro 1 regulatory standard was introduced (more than 20 years old) emits 58 times more NO2 than a new one.

Commitments to the reduction of emissions

In order to improve the quality of the air we breathe a reduction of the number of vehicles circulating is required and those circulating must be cleaner. The commitment involves a modal shift from private vehicles to public transport and the promotion of vehicle stock renewal, which needs to be more efficient and less polluting.

Specific monitoring in Tarragona

The results of the studies conducted based on the data collected from the measurement points located in the Camp de Tarragona region indicate that there is no significant difference between the air quality in that area and that in the rest of Catalonia and therefore poses no risk to the health of local residents. However, given the coexistence of industrial activity and urban areas, a specific air quality monitoring system has been designed for the area that includes an increased number of monitoring points and the evaluation of additional specific compounds, with a wide range of volatile organic compounds now measured.

Air pollution in the Barcelona area continues to exceed EU levels, despite a downward trend being recorded with regard to particles (PM10).

Air pollution in the Barcelona area continues to exceed EU levels, despite a downward trend being recorded with regard to particles (PM10)