Pollution, mainly caused by the suspended microparticles generated by petrol and diesel vehicles, can prove to be very dangerous for particularly vulnerable people, such as those affected by respiratory diseases. Sustainability mobility could the key to make the air of our cities a bit more breathable.
Internal combustion engine vehicles account for 13% of pollution from suspended particles within the European Union, according to the last report of the European Environment Agency (EEA). In the case of nitrogen oxides, emitted by diesel engines, the percentage increases to 46% of emissions.
“There are a multitude of pollutant particles that may have different origins, but it is clear that the primary emitter of nitrogen dioxide in cities is the motor car. Manufacturers have reduced the amount of some particles released from the fuel, but this is not the case of nitrogen dioxide,” insists Miguel Ángel Ceballos, spokesperson of Ecologists in Action.
Pollution not only has an impact on global warming and climate change, but also directly affects our health. According to Ecologists in Action, 94% of Spaniards were exposed to polluted air last year. Up to 37 Spanish cities have an air quality below that recommended by the international body.
“There are a multitude of pollutant particles that may have different origins, but it is clear that the primary emitter of nitrogen dioxide in cities is the motor car”
Miguel Ángel Ceballos, spokesperson of Ecologists in Action
The report of the European Environment Agency (EEA) for 2016 concludes that every year in Spain 23,940 people die prematurely because their health is aggravated by the inhalation of particles, 4,280 by the impact of nitrogen oxides and 1,760 as a consequence of ozone-related complications. This means an overall total of 29,980 people, nearly thirty times more than deaths from traffic accidents.
According to the Barcelona Global Health Institute (ISGlobal) the environmental factors account for 5% of the illnesses of the population in Spain. Nitrogen dioxide increases the risk of different pulmonary diseases and aggravates asthmatic reactions. Additionally, it is a precursor of other important pollutants such as ozone, generated from chemical reactions that occur in the atmosphere.
Suspended air particles have different origins, but a large proportion of them come from the exhaust pipes of our vehicles. They form the cloud of pollution that is visible over large cities.
The most harmful ones are smaller than 2.5 microns, which arrive at the gas exchange area in the lungs, and ultra-fine particles (smaller than 0.1 microns), which can enter the bloodstream. Pollution due to suspended particles causes rises in total mortality, higher cancer rates and higher mortality rates due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE MOBILITY
The improvement in the quality of the air of our cities necessarily requires a reduction in combustion engine vehicles. “It can be easily verified when pollution protocols are applied. In Madrid, when the speed and the number of cars have been restricted, pollution levels have fallen dramatically,” points out Miguel Ángel Ceballos. The new mobility alternatives, the electric car and a change in the urban model could be the keys.
The current urban layout, where people must travel great distances to go to work, to school and even shopping, has given rise to the current dependence on the motor car. According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, commercial establishments should be within walking distance of our homes, schools a bike ride away and our workplace a few stops away by public transport.
Vehicle and motorbike sharing platforms could remove up to 15 private vehicles from circulation for each rented vehicle, according to the calculations made by car sharing companies. According to the report Carsharing: Evolution, Challenges and Opportunities, published by the Imperial College of London, the amount of pollutant gases from vehicles emitted into the atmosphere could be reduced by up to 54%.
The banning of diesel vehicles from cities and, ultimately, all combustion engine vehicles, could mean a dramatic reduction in pollution and greenhouse gases. City councils such as those of Paris, Madrid and Mexico City are already committed to banning the circulation of diesel vehicles – which account for most nitrogen dioxide emissions – from 2025.
WHO AIR QUALITY GUIDE