Occitanie isa state located in the southernmost portion of France, being the second largestregion countrywide and home to some 5.8 million inhabitants. Occitanie has fivecities within it, and finds a good portion of its landmass facing onto theMediterranean coastline. Due to having a large portion of land facing thecoast, Occitanie is subject to quite good levels of year-round pollution,although this is not always the case with coastal cities or states.
In 2019,every single city in the state came in with a PM2.5 reading that was within theWorld Health Organizations (WHO) target goal of 0 to 10 μg/m³. PM2.5 refers toparticulate matter that is of 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, and due toits size has highly adverse effects on those breathing it. As such it is amajor component in calculating the overall levels of air pollution in any givenarea.
As it stands,Occitanie has low year-round readings of PM2.5, with the most polluted citystate wide, Poitiers, coming in with a reading of 9.6 μg/m³, a very respectablenumber in terms of the quality of the air. Of note is that this city did havesome months that broke out of the WHO’s target goal and actually went up byseveral rankings, although these were short lived and the readings were nothigh enough to skew the average data by any significant number.
The highestreading statewide over the whole year of 2019 was 20.4 μg/m³, recorded inFebruary in Poitiers, putting it into the ‘moderate’ pollution bracket whichrequires a PM2.5 reading of 12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³.
Whilst thisnumber could be considered quite high, and when compared to the rest of theyear it certainly comes in many magnitudes higher (compared to a reading takenin Peyrusse Vielle of 3.6 μg/m³ in November), this number quickly declined andby next month it had already dropped by nearly half back down to 11 μg/m³,putting it in the ‘good’ group rating (10 to 12 μg/m³) and then followed by areading of 10 μg/m³ in the next month, inching its way back into the WHO’starget goal once again. There are other cities with similar stories, and assuch the state of Occitanie has a great level of year-round pollution, withsome months that occasionally jump higher than others before quickly decliningback to safe levels of air quality.
As is commonin many cities and states across France, and indeed worldwide, pollutionsources remain the same, with varying issues occurring world wide (such as theillegal practices of slash and burn farming causing large amounts of smoke and pollution in Thailand).
For thecities of occitanie, they find their sources of pollution stemming from the useof vehicles, as well as the heating of homes and places of business,particularly during the colder months of the year which can be directlyobserved on the PM2.5 readings of years past. Other issues that raise theoverall levels of pollution year-round are industrial factors, with places suchas factories also giving off their own pollutants due to them being powered bynon-renewable sources such as coal. There are a large amount of factories inthe deep south of France, many of them catering towards the production ofclothes and branded goods, with industry giants such as Nike even havingproduction lines in Occitanie.
With studiestaking place around major cities such as Toulouse, it is shown that nearly all,if not the entirety of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions can be foundin the atmosphere surrounding main roads, and although these levels fellslightly over the year of 2020 due to COVID-19 lockdowns being in effect, whennormal activity resumed these levels of pollution returned to normal, showingthe prominent effect that motor vehicles can have on the pollution levels. Ofimportance as well is the pollution given off from the heating of homes,showing just as much prominence as emissions given off by diesel fuels. Theeffects that these pollutants have on the environment and human health will bediscussed in short.
Observing thedate taken over 2019, it is apparent that much like the rest of France,Occitanie suffers from spikes in PM2.5 during the colder months of the year.Looking at the readings taken from the various countries statewide, Poitiershad all its elevated pollution ratings in the months of January, February andDecember. They all came in with readings of 14.9 μg/m³, 20.4 μg/m³ and 12.2 μg/m³respectively, along with March also coming in slightly elevated with a PM2.5reading of 11 μg/m³. As touched on previously, the rest of the year was allwithin the WHO’s target.
Other cities allfell in line with similar readings, with Toulouse showing elevated readings inJanuary, February, November and December. Lourdes, with a yearly average of 8.2μg/m³, showed heightened numbers in the first two months of the year, howeverit was void of the large jumps in November and December that were seen in the toptwo cities in Occitanie.
With thesetrends, it is apparent that there will be constant spikes in pollution at thesetimes of the year, and as such any people who suffer from sensitivities towardsairborne chemicals or those with respiratory issues may want to stay up to dateon pollution levels during these months, via the use of air quality maps asavailable on the IQAir website, or also on the AirVisual app.
With thisknowledge at hand, preventative measures can be taken to ensure exposure topollution is kept to a minimum, either through the avoidance of outdooractivities during particularly bad spells, or through the wearing of fineparticle filtering masks.
Once againgoing off the data provided over the last few years, we can compare the yearlyaverages from each different city to see if any marked improvements have beenmade, or whether there has been a reduction in the quality of the air. Besidesjust having PM2.5 as a way of measuring pollution levels, US AQI (united statesair quality index) is often used as an overall calculation of air quality,taking factors such as PM2.5 and other pollutants (CO, PM10) and using them toobtain a US AQI rating. The reason why the united states air quality index isused is because of how strict its rating system is when compared to otherinternational air quality measures.
Regardingpollution levels in Occitanie, it is indeed shown that pollution levels areimproving slowly across every city, with many of them moving down a rankingfrom ‘good’ levels of air quality (10 to 12 μg/m³) down into the WHO’s target.Poitiers came in with an average PM2.5 reading of 11.1 μg/m³ in 2017, followedby a reading of 9.9 μg/m³ in 2018, and then finally a reading of 9.6 μg/m³ in2019. This is a definitive improvement each year.
Other citiesthat followed suit were Toulouse, coming in at 10.9 μg/m³ in 2017, 10.1 μg/m³in 2018 and then 9.2 μg/m³ in 2019. Every city came in with this trend, themost prominent difference being in the cleanest city of Peyrusse Vieille, whichhad a PM2.5 reading of 10.7 μg/m³ in 2017, which dropped down to 6.7 μg/m³ in2019, showing a considerable improvement over the span of two years.
With a largeamount of its pollution coming from vehicular emissions, factory smoke and finedust as well as the burning of fossil fuels during colder months for heating,there would be a wide variety of pollutants in the air, particularly when thelevels of PM2.5 reach higher numbers, as observed in Poitiers with its highs of14.9 and 20.4 μg/m³.
Pollutantssuch as black carbon and volatile organic compounds can be found accumulated inroad dust as well as the atmosphere, both of which are a byproduct of thecombustion of organic material or fossil fuels, and as such can find theirorigins in factories, the burning of wood or other materials done by thegeneral population, as well as from engines that run on diesel fuels.
Nitrogendioxide is always present in large quantities in areas that see high volumes oftraffic, as well as sulfur dioxide (SO2) along with it. Sulfurdioxide may be even more present along coastal towns due to the existence ofboats in these areas. Larger ships often have different regulations on the fuelthey can use, and as such they often contain higher levels of pollutants suchas sulfur, which can cause problems to the surrounding air in the form ofsulfur dioxide, causing acidification of the clouds which leads to increasedrates of acid rain.
Otherchemicals or compounds that arise from factory and vehicle emissions, or a combinationof both, include dangerous materials such as benzene, formaldehyde, dioxins aswell as metals such as mercury or lead, particularly in factories that workwith plastics, as well as construction sites. The most pertinent pollutants forthe state of Occitanie however, would be nitrogen dioxide, ozone (O3)and the wide variety of fine particulate matters that fall under the PM2.5 andPM10 bracket.