15 cities have effective protocols to curb pollution, failure to plan for soaring levels observed in others.

The specter of European fines for air quality continues to hover over Spain. Even after the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) condemned Madrid and Barcelona last December for exceeding between 2010 and 2018 the maximum limits of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) established in European regulations. And although they have been put measures to improve the air that we breathe in these cities, the truth is that there is still work to be done

Important locations such as Alicante, Bilbao, Cartagena, Córdoba, Elche, Granada, Málaga, Palma, Las Palmas, Pamplona, ​​Santa Cruz, Vigo or Vitoria They still do not implement updated protocols to deal with episodes of high contamination. As reported by Ecologists in Action, the planes the ones they have are obsolete and do not conform to what is established by the last Framework Action Plan approved in July 2021.

The document of the Sectorial Conference on the Environment put on the table the need to establish values ​​and actions of homogeneous response and anticipation to high pollution episodes for all administrations. Thus, the administrations that already have these action plans would have a period of 18 months to adapt them to the Framework Plan. However, the majority of towns with more than 100,000 inhabitants in our country still did not comply with the provisions as of January 9, 2023 – the application deadline.

Till the date, only fifteen urban areas protocols for action against episodes of poor air quality have been provided: Avilés, Gijón and Oviedo (with a regional protocol); the municipalities of A Coruña, Barcelona, ​​Gijón, León, Madrid, Murcia, Seville, Valencia, Valladolid and Zaragoza and the main towns in the metropolitan areas of Barcelona and Madrid (with regional protocols).

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Miguel Ángel Ceballos, responsible for air quality at Ecologistas, comments that even in cities that have plans “they are not proving effective”. He points out that, in some cases, it is practically never applied because the established pollutant thresholds “are too lax” and, in others, the measures “are not demanding in terms of traffic reduction” or, “when it becomes underway, the contamination episode is already upon us”.

[Seguimos respirando aire contaminado: España rebasa los límites de la OMS y faltan planes anti polución]

For the expert, the city of Valladolid could be an example of good air quality control because it is the one that includes the most pollutants in the action plan that it approved in 2017 and the one that sets more demanding thresholds in line with the Organization World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the presence of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), suspended particles less than 10 microns (PM10) or less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) and ozone.

The inclusion of a broader list of contaminants is something that has once again been demanded in the last Royal Decree of the Government approved this week, which again affects the establishment of a common framework of action for the different public administrations in the event of episodes of high contamination.

As reported by the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (MITECO), what is sought is, ultimately, to achieve better control of air pollution reducing the concentration of particles and nitrogen dioxide, especially in large cities, places where air quality is particularly deteriorated.

Ceballos points out that the 2007 law is now much more specific in municipalities with 100,000 inhabitants where there is a risk of exceeding the alert thresholds. However, he criticizes that, despite being “a positive initiative”, this Royal Decree “it does not say the application deadline”except for the adaptation of the protocols in force or in preparation to the State Framework Action Plan, which should be addressed by the administrations responsible for them in this month of January.

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In addition, although alert thresholds for the most dangerous pollutants, such as particles, appear for the first time, they are still higher than those set by the World Health Organization (WHO), for which reason “they are insufficient”, point out from Ecologists.

Since most of the pollution in urban areas comes from trafficand mostly cars, in the opinion of Ecologists in Action, a good part of the measures to reduce pollution peaks should be aimed at limiting the use of the car sufficiently in advance.

This can be offset by actions that can both reduce speed and car use, and channel the need for mobility towards public transport and non-motorized modes of transport, such as cycling.

Image of a bike lane.


Also, it is necessary to take into account temperature variable. More if possible in a scenario of climate change. As Ceballos explains, at times of extreme temperatures, the highest peaks of contamination can occur. When it’s cold, the pollutant that increases the most is nitrogen; when it’s hot, ozone.

In accordance with AEMA day, during prolonged periods of high pressure in the winter months, solar radiation reaches the ground and heats it. At night, the lack of cloud cover implies a rapid loss of heat on the ground, and the air in contact with the ground cools.

In this way, the warm air rises and acts as a cover, holding the cold air close to the ground. Pollution, including that from road traffic, is also retained, so the layer of air closest to the ground is increasingly polluted. This cycle continues until the prevailing weather conditions change.

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Health goes to us

The scientific literature on how air pollution affects our health continues to add data that underscores the urgency of taking action in this regard. Nitrogen dioxide and ozone alone can cause breathing difficulties and even trigger asthma attacks when in high concentrations. According to calculations of the European Environment Agency (EEA), these pollutants cause about 1,800 and 6,800 deaths respectively each year in Spain.

[La contaminación mató a 9 millones de personas en 2019, cuatro veces más que la Covid en 2020]

In addition to deaths, poor air quality has other impacts on our health and, especially, on that of the most vulnerable. The latest that a worrying report from the Sant Joan de Déu Hospital and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health has released.

He job warns of the vulnerability of minors and highlights that exposure to air pollution is related to a greater risk of low birth weight, prematurity and neurodevelopmental problems. But it is that, in addition, it also increases the probability of suffering dermatological ailments, asthma or other respiratory disorders in the long term.

These are figures that show a real public health problem and that, on occasions, ends up translating into hospital admissions. According to a study published by the Carlos III Health Institute, together with other national universities and institutions, a total of 8,246 admissions due to natural causes attributable only to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) between 2013 and 2018 (the study period), with an estimated cost of about 120 million euros.

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