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|1||San Roque, Andalucía|
|4||Puertollano, Castilla-La Mancha|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
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|1||Sa Pobla, Balearic Islands|
|3||Castello de la Plana, Valencia|
|5||Donostia, Basque Country|
|7||San Sebastián de La Gomera, Canarias|
|10||Valladolid, Castille and Leon|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
2022 Air quality average
2022 average US AQI
2022 average PM2.5 concentration in Spain: 2.2 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value
|2022 Spain cleanest city|| Albalat dels Tarongers , Valencia|
|2022 Spain most polluted city|| Puebla de Alfinden , Aragon|
Spain is also officially known as the Kingdom of Spain and is situated in South-western Europe. Its territory includes the Balearic Islands which are in the Mediterranean Sea and the Canary Islands which are situated off the west coast of North Africa. Spain shares land borders with France, Portugal and Andorra. It also has coastlines on the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Biscay. After a 2020 census, it was found to have a population of approximately 47.5 million people.
At the beginning of 2021, Spain was enjoying a period of “Good” quality air with a US AQI reading of 40. This classification is based on recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This placed Spain in the World Ranking of dirty cities at number 82 out of a possible 98.
Around 30,000 people died in Spain from air pollution in 2019. This is one of the main conclusions of the latest air quality report by the conservation NGO Ecologistas en Acción.
The document takes as a reference the maximum contamination values recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In this context, the report indicates that 94 per cent of the population continued to breathe polluted air with levels higher than those recommended. This situation affects about 44 million people and 88 per cent of the Spanish territory.
Among the atmospheric pollutants, ecologists highlight some as the “most problematic for our health." Among them, suspended particles (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), tropospheric ozone (O3), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and benzo (a) pyrene (BaP). Ozone is a pollutant linked to the others, which is prevalent during hot weather and can spread long distances which is why areas where the air might be assumed to be clean, such as Madrid’s Sierra Norte, can be highly contaminated.
The hotspots for nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant largely associated with the volume of traffic, are big cities and their outlying areas, such as Madrid, Barcelona and Granada as well as Bilbao. Nitrogen dioxide is a by-product of combustion at high temperatures, for instance in car engines and electricity-generating plants.
The main source of pollution in urban areas, where most of the population lives, is emissions from vehicles. Road traffic is responsible for more than 50 per cent of nitrogen dioxide emissions, particularly diesel vehicles.
However, in certain manufacturing areas and in the surroundings of large coal and oil thermoelectric plants, it is these sources that can lessen the air quality.
The level of ozone (O3) is the pollutant that changes throughout the year. This is due to the increase in average temperatures and extreme meteorological situations (heat waves) during the summer, which are becoming more frequent and intense as a result of climate change. During 2019, due to the intense and prolonged summer heat, most of the Spanish territory has continued to be exposed to dangerous levels for human and plant health.
In Granada, where traffic is less dense than in Madrid and Barcelona, the pollution problem is exacerbated by topography and climate, according to ministry experts. The city is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains that can trap the pollution in winter when the colder, polluted air cannot rise and disperse due to a lid of warm air, also known as a temperature inversion. Central heating systems and the burning of crop residue in the agricultural region of La Vega further aggravate the situation. And the weak winds particular to the region do nothing to mitigate the problem, as they are not strong enough to blow away the polluted air.
The nitrogen dioxide levels recorded during the COVID-19 alarm are the lowest for the months of March and April of the last decade in all the cities analysed. They are also kept well below the legal limit value and the annual guide of the World Health Organisation (WHO), when in traffic stations said threshold is frequently exceeded, especially in the month of March.
Territorially, there is a lower reduction in pollution in the cities of the Cantabrian coast, perhaps due to poorly specified meteorological factors. On the other hand, the cities of the Mediterranean coast are the ones that have lowered the nitrogen dioxide levels the most, to concentrations sometimes typical of rural background stations.
The greatest reductions would have occurred in the cities of Alicante (72 per cent) and València (69 per cent), and the smallest in Oviedo (42 per cent) and Zaragoza (45 per cent). Madrid has lowered nitrogen dioxide levels by 59 per cent and Barcelona by 62 per cent, on average. The measurement networks of cities are very disparate, so their data cannot be compared with complete rigour.
Particulates (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) in the air affected two-thirds of the State's population. Barcelona, Granada and Madrid continued to breach the legal limits of NO2, so the European Commission denounced Spain before the European Court of Justice.
Particles increased over the previous year, largely due to the pollution episode in the second half of February.
Air pollution should be addressed as a problem of the first order. Every year around 30,000 premature deaths are registered in the Spanish State due to conditions derived from air pollution, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA). For the Carlos III Health Institute, 10,000 of them die in episodes of high contamination such as those registered at the end of February and June and mid-July 2019.
Information to the public is neither adequate nor adjusted to the seriousness of the problem. The Eurobarometer on air quality for September 2019 reveals that 60 per cent of Spanish respondents consider themselves to be poorly informed, and 74 per cent think that air quality has deteriorated in the last decade. According to another recent survey by Transport & Environment, 82 per cent of Spanish respondents would support restricting the entry of cars in cities or a distribution of public space more favourable to pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.
The only way to improve air quality in cities is to reduce motorised traffic, promote public transport, cycling, and pedestrian traffic. It is also necessary to promote energy saving, adopt the best industrial techniques available, close coal-fired power plants, penalise diesel, reduce the use of aircraft and declare a control area for maritime transport emissions in the Mediterranean Sea.
The recent health crisis of COVID-19 has dramatically confirmed that the reduction of traffic in cities has clear effects on reducing pollution, something that in turn represents a significant improvement in public health. Ecologists in Action is developing a campaign under the slogan 'Let's confine cars, let's recover our space' to demand that the government take measures in this regard.
The Ecologists in Action report 'Effects of the COVID-19 crisis on urban air quality in Spain', drawn up from official measurements in 26 cities, concludes that the drastic reduction in traffic continues to translate into an improvement without air quality precedents in Spanish cities, well below legal limits and WHO recommendations.
For de-escalation, Ecologistas en Acción proposes maintaining good practices such as proximity shopping, voluntary teleworking and electronic administration, lowering the speed limit on urban roads to 30 kilometres per hour, promoting active pedestrian and cyclist mobility and guaranteeing public transportation.
During 2019, air pollution has remained generally stable, with a general reduction in the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) but increases in those of suspended particles (PM10 and PM2.5) and sulphur dioxide (SO2), while tropospheric ozone pollution has remained stationary. The overall result has been a slight improvement in the situation, with a smaller population and territory affected by pollution.
The problem with PM10 particulates is more spread out. It’s not a big problem in big cities but it is increasingly affecting Granada and its surroundings, as well as Málaga, the entire Costa del Sol and Avilés in Asturias, also the rural areas such as the Plain of Vic and the village of Villanueva del Arzobispo in Jaén province.
PM10 particulate matter consists of dust, ash, soot and other non-organic components measuring between 2.5 and 10 microns in diameter. They are usually caused by central heating systems, construction and demolition works but traffic can also be a source from the abrasion of tyres on the road surface and the wearing down of brake shoes.
Of the 126 zones in Spain, 36 have illegal levels of ozone. In Granada, two air quality stations measured ratios of PM10 above the EU limit that, according to experts, are caused equally by traffic, heating and building works. An inventory of 1,460 boilers carried out by the council this year revealed that 1,044 or 62.93 per cent use diesel, which is a highly contaminating fuel. Meanwhile, 371 use natural gas, 27 biomass and 18 propane gas. In the Málaga area, the problem was worst in Marbella due to the volume of traffic in the city.
The main effects of air pollution on health range from changes in lung function, heart problems and other symptoms and complaints to an increase in the number of deaths, hospital admissions and visits to the emergency room, especially due to respiratory and cardiovascular causes.
In recent years there has been an important advance in the knowledge and understanding of the effects of air pollution on health provided by a large number of scientific works around the world. These studies have highlighted the importance of air quality in the health of the population and have made it possible to identify the main mechanisms of action by which exposure to air pollution causes damage to health.
PM particulate matter affects more people than any other pollutant and its main components are sulphates, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, coal, mineral dust, and water. PM consists of a complex mixture of liquid and solid particles of organic and inorganic substances suspended in the air. Particles are classified according to their aerodynamic diameter into PM10 (particles with an aerodynamic diameter less than 10 microns) and PM2.5 (aerodynamic diameter less than 2.5 microns). The latter pose greater danger because, when inhaled, they can reach deep into the base of the bronchial tubes where they come to rest in the alveoli. From here they can easily transfer into the bloodstream and travel as far as the heart.
The health effects of PM occur at the levels of exposure to which the majority of the urban and rural population in developed and developing countries are currently subjected. Chronic exposure to the particles increases the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as lung cancer. In developing countries, exposure to pollutants from solid fuel combustion in open fires and traditional indoor stoves increases the risk of acute lower respiratory infection and mortality from this cause in young children; Indoor air pollution from solid fuels is also a major risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer among adults. Mortality in cities with high levels of pollution is between 15 and 20 per cent higher than that registered in cleaner cities. Even in the EU, the average life expectancy is 8.6 months lower due to exposure to PM2.5 generated by human activities.
Sulphur dioxide can affect the respiratory system and lung functions, and causes eye irritation. Inflammation of the respiratory system causes coughing, mucous discharge, and exacerbation of asthma and chronic bronchitis; It also increases the susceptibility of people to contract infections of the respiratory system. Hospital admissions for heart disease and mortality increase on days when sulphur dioxide levels are highest. In combination with water, sulphur dioxide turns into sulphuric acid, which is the main component of acid rain that causes deforestation and degradation of monuments and statues and other outdoor structures.
Excess ozone in the air can cause serious adverse effects on human health. It can cause breathing problems, cause asthma, reduce lung function, and may lead to lung disease. It is currently one of the atmospheric pollutants of greatest concern in Europe. Various European studies have revealed that daily mortality and mortality from heart disease increase by 0.3 and 0.4 per cent respectively with an increase of 10 µg/m3 in ozone concentration.
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