Medellin issues red alert over ‘harmful’ air


Medellin partially banned motorized traffic and reduced economic activity on Wednesday “to protect citizens” from pollution that has made air “harmful” for people’s health.

The red alert that was issued bans more than half of the city’s cars and physical activity for children in schools. Businesses that have failed to adhere to environmental regulations were ordered to immediately stop operations.

The state of alert is the second in two years and occurred only weeks after the city government announced it had closed a pact with the private sector to reduce air pollution.

The restrictions on traffic, industry and school activities will remain in place at least until Friday, local authorities said. The measures can be extended if the air quality has not improved by then.

Why this is happening
The exhausts of cars and factories have reduced air quality to the point it is considered harmful, especially for elderly citizens and children.

A rapid increase in car ownership in the fast-developing city of 2.5 million has led to excessive pollution.

According to transit authorities, one in every three cars in Medellin does not comply with environmental regulations.

Gasoline and diesel provided by state-run oil company Ecopetrol contain excessive levels of harmful chemicals, like sulfur, that would make the fuel illegal in developed economies like the United States and the European Union.

The city’s geographical location — Medellin lies in a valley — does not allow the exhausts of cars and factories to blow away. This is particularly an issue in March, a month in which there is hardly any wind or rain because of the dry season.

Is this the new normal?

Medellin mayor Federico Gutierrez announced in February that the city’s administration and private sector had agreed to measures that would curb the deterioration of air quality.

Environmental activists, however, have said the pact was “superficial” and fails to tackle the primary causes of pollution, low-quality fuel and an outdated fleet of privately-owned buses.

Ecopetrol has refused to sign this pact, arguing that its fuel quality is higher than demanded by government regulators.

Local transport companies have also refused to take part as they would have to cover the cost of filtering Ecopetrol’s notoriously bad fuel.

If the national government were to impose norms similar to those in the US, sulfur levels could drop to 5% of what they are now. Congress, however, is busy with elections. The national government has less than six months left in office.

via Medellin issues red alert over ‘harmful’ air

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Dangerous pollution spreads to Northeastern region

e13fa4cca379fd10e548f7508a8779ce.jpegAir pollution from a high level of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) has continued to intensify. The problem is no longer limited to the Northern region, but also to the Northeast.

Tak’s Mae Sot district was found to have the most severe air pollution problem from PM2.5 in Thailand. The PM2.5 peak level as of Tuesday morning, measured by the Pollution Control Department (PCD), was as high as 211.21 milligrams per cubic metre of air, while the PM2.5 daily average level was at 133.41 milligrams.

Lampang was the second most hazardous area, as the PM2.5 level reached as high as 189 milligrams in the morning and the daily average was 133.5 milligrams.

The PM2.5 level at Khon Kaen in the Northeast rose up to 132.17 milligrams on Tuesday morning and had a daily average at 90.2 milligrams.
Chiang Mai and Nan also suffered from harmful levels of PM2.5, as PCD’s data revealed daily averages of 96.34 and 49.1 milligrams respectively.

Thailand’s safe standard for daily-average PM2.5 is 50 milligrams, while the World Health Organisation’s recommended level is just 25 milligrams.

According to medical experts, long-term exposure to PM2.5 can cause many fatal diseases such as lung cancer, stroke and heart disease, and lead to premature death.

via Dangerous pollution spreads to Northeastern region

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Old Cars Bringing More Air Pollution to Croatia

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When it comes to the impact of transport on air quality in Europe, cars in the Czech Republic, Poland and Estonia fare the worst and they are labelled by the Eco Experts organisation as the most toxic drivers, while Croatia ranks the fifth on the list of 25 European countries.

The ranking was compiled according to the results from several criteria: the average vehicle age, the number of vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants, the percentage of alternative fuel passenger cars, and air pollution.

Motorists in the Czech Republic were named the most toxic in Europe, according to the report released by the British organisation Eco Experts. Not only do Czech motorists have the 6th lowest number of alternative fuel vehicles (0.7%), their cars are also the 6th oldest on average at 14.5 years old, according to the findings of the report.

“Vehicle owners in Poland came in at a close second. Despite having the highest number of alternative fuel passenger cars (15.5%) in the research, the eastern European country performed poorly on all other measures of vehicle toxicity. Most notably, Poland is home to the oldest cars in Europe (17.2 years on average) and has the highest recorded ambient air pollution in the continent,” reads the research.

“Estonia was found to be home to the third most toxic drivers in Europe, owing to its citizens driving the 5th oldest vehicles on average at 15.1 years old, and having the fifth highest number of vehicles per capita. The country also has a very low percentage of alternative fuel vehicles, at a mere 0.6%.

“Croatia and Slovakia completed the list of the top 5 most toxic drivers in Europe, with motorists in countries such as Slovenia and Romania not far behind.”

In terms of the number of vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants, Croatia ranks 25th (with 392 cars per 1,000 inhabitants). Only Latvia, Hungary and Romania have fewer cars per 1,000 inhabitants. Measured by this criterion, Malta and Luxembourg top the list.

In Croatia, the average vehicle age is 14.1 years.

via Old Cars Bringing More Air Pollution to Croatia

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Public at risk from ‘daily cocktail of pollution’


People are being exposed to a daily cocktail of pollution that may be having a significant impact on their health, England’s chief medical officer says.

Prof Dame Sally Davies said the impact of air, light and noise pollution was well recognised in the environment.

But she said its role in terms of health was yet to be fully understood.

Dame Sally added there was enough evidence to suggest action had to be taken.

And, in her annual report, she said the NHS could lead the way in cutting pollution levels.

She said one in 20 vehicle journeys was linked to the NHS, either from patients or staff travelling.
And making sure services were brought out of hospitals and closer to people’s homes could help reduce that burden.

Dame Sally also pointed to the attempts being made to phase out ambulances run on diesel, a key source of nitrogen dioxide, which is linked to respiratory disease.

And she said the NHS could cut its use of disposable plastics, landfill and incineration.
While air pollution does not kill people directly, it can shorten their lives by undermining the health of people with lung problems and heart disease.

Previous research has suggested it may be a factor in one in 12 deaths and is the ninth leading factor for mortality in the UK – tobacco, diet and high blood pressure are the top three.

But Dame Sally said there was also a question about how air, light and noise could coincide to have an impact on long-term health.

“With factors like air, light and noise, the public is exposed to a daily cocktail of pollutants,” she said.

“Some of these can be linked to chronic conditions like heart disease and asthma.

“This increases the risk for some of the most vulnerable members of our society and places a huge burden on our health service.”

via Public at risk from ‘daily cocktail of pollution’ – BBC News

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Rome will ban diesel cars by 2024

Rome, one of Europe’s most traffic-clogged cities and home to thousands of ancient outdoor monuments threatened by pollution, plans to ban diesel cars from the center by 2024, its mayor said.

Virginia Raggi announced the decision on her Facebook page on Tuesday, saying: “If we want to intervene seriously, we have to have the courage to adopt strong measures.”

Her comments followed a court ruling in Germany that cities there can ban the most heavily polluting diesel cars from their streets.

About two-thirds of the 1.8 million new veicles sold in Italy last year were diesel, according to industry figures.

Rome has no major industries, so nearly all of the air pollution in the Italian capital is caused by vehicles.

The city regularly tries to ban older, more polluting vehicles from roads on days when pollution reaches critical levels.

It has also tried to reduce pollution by allowing only cars whose number plates end in either odd or even numbers to circulate on alternate days.

But both regulations are widely flouted and lightly enforced by traffic police. To skirt the alternate days regulation, many families buy a used car with a different number plate.

Apart from health issues, pollution from combustion engines causes severe damage to Rome’s many ancient outdoor monuments.

According to a study last year by a branch of the culture ministry, 3,600 stone monuments and 60 bronze sculptures risk serious deterioration because of air pollution.

Ahead of celebrations marking the start of the new millennium in 2000, the darkened facade of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican was cleaned as part of a project that lasted several years.

But fresh signs of pollution-related stains are visible again.

Before the German court’s ruling on Tuesday, officials in highly industrialized Milan, in northern Italy, had already announced plans to make the city diesel-free by 2030.

via Rome will ban diesel cars by 2024

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Beijing issues yellow alert over air pollution

Beijing’s air pollution emergency response office issued a yellow alert for smog Tuesday, forecasting the air pollution to persist until Wednesday night.

The yellow alert warned of an air quality index of more than 150 micrograms of harmful fine particulate matter per cubic meter of air for two consecutive days.

Under China’s four-tier warning system, red is the most severe, followed by orange, yellow and blue.

This round of smog is expected to hit Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Henan, Shandong, according to the Institute of Atmospheric Physics with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

via Beijing issues yellow alert over air pollution – Global Times

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Brussels to make public transport free on high air pollution days

The new rules will also see car speed limits cut and wood-burning stoves banned in a drive to improve air quality in the city


Brussels has moved to make the city’s public transport and bike share system free on the smoggiest days in a bid to drive down pollution levels and meet EU air quality directives.

After two consecutive days of high particulate matter (PM) levels – defined as surpassing an average of 51-70 micrograms per cubic metre of air – buses, trams and metros would have to open their doors completely free, under new city council rules.

Speed limits for cars would be also cut by about a third and wood burning for stoves would be banned under the law, which was forwarded for judicial review last week.

Pascal Smet, Brussels’ mobility minister said the measures would redress tax and planning benefits that had benefited the city’s 350,000 daily car commuters over many decades.

“We need to create quality public space,” he told the Guardian. “Research shows that the more space you give to cars, the more cars you attract. Indeed, the most car-friendly cities are also the most congested. By giving back space to pedestrians and cyclists, cities can create places where people meet and connect.”

The city’s failure to deal with its shifting pall of toxic air had embarrassed EU officials and diplomats who often spluttered their way to meetings where they discussed air quality in the bloc as a whole.

Last month, Brussels moved to address the problem with a strategy of low emissions zones that will progressively ban the most polluting cars from its streets. City buses will all be electrified by 2030.

Meanwhile, city residents will be able to check PM levels on a phone app or a real-time website to see when pollution limits are breached.

These kinds of blue sky actions may be watched closely by officials in London, which reached its legal yearly pollution limit last month. The UK as a whole has been in breach of the EU’s air quality directive since 2010.

Brussels planners are now attempting to create a child and family-friendly city, according to city officials. “The idea is not to ban cars from the city, but to find a new balance,” Smet said.

via Brussels to make public transport free on high air pollution days | Environment | The Guardian

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Mongolian air pollution causing health crisis: UNICEF

Smog in the Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, is causing a public health crisis, especially among children, with treatment costs likely to put the cash-strapped country under increasing strain, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.

The government needed to take urgent action to limit smog-induced health problems, UNICEF and Mongolia’s National Center for Public Health said in a study, adding that a failure to act could push treatment costs up by a third by 2025, amounting to a further 4.8 billion tugrik ($2 million) a year in the capital.

“Air pollution has become a child health crisis in Ulaanbaatar, putting every child and pregnancy at risk,” UNICEF Mongolia Representative Alex Heikens said in a release.

“The risks include stillbirth, preterm birth, lower birth weight, pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, inhibited brain development and death,” he said.

Pollution levels in Ulaanbaatar had become worse than that in cities such as Beijing and New Delhi, UNICEF and the public health agency said in their report, released on Thursday.

Concentrations of breathable airborne particles known as PM2.5 were as high as 3,320 micrograms per cubic meter at one monitoring station on Jan. 30, they said.

Average PM2.5 readings for January stood at about 206 micrograms in Ulaanbaatar, according to Reuters calculations based on incomplete government data.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends annual average PM2.5 concentrations of no more than 10 micrograms. PM2.5 in Beijing stood at 34 micrograms in January, down 70.7 percent from a year earlier.

Mongolia has struggled with pollution in its capital, where an influx of out-of-work herders migrating from the countryside has seen the population double in less than two decades.

The government has offered subsidies for more-efficient wood- and coal-burning stoves and it is also providing free electricity at night in some districts.

But smog levels spike in the bitterly cold winters, especially in poor “ger” neighborhoods, named after the felt tents in which many migrants live.

Many ger households burn coal or even trash to keep warm and the smog they produce has led to a surge in respiratory and heart disease and stoked anger and protests.

“Reducing air pollution levels is the only long-term sustainable solution to protecting children’s health,” Heikens said.

“In the meantime, thousands of children will continue to suffer unless urgent action is taken.”

via Mongolian air pollution causing health crisis: UNICEF

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