An environmental air pollution episode occurs when contaminant levels exceed recommended limits established by WHO and EU and become damaging to health, especially affecting the most vulnerable groups: children, pregnant women, older people and those with asthma and heart or respiratory conditions.
Such an episode is caused by the coincidence of environmental factors, such as anticyclonic situations characterised by a lack of wind and precipitation. In Barcelona it may occur up to 3 times a year, particularly in relation to suspended particles (PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). In order to reduce the effects of air pollution episodes as much as possible and to work towards decreasing daily pollution levels, Barcelona City Council has established an action plan as set out in Mesura de Govern "Programa de mesures contra la contaminació atmosfèrica de Barcelona".
Thresholds for the two main pollutants (NO2 and PM10) at each level:
|POLLUTANT||CLOSE MONITORING||EARLY ALERT||EPISODE|
|NO2||140 µg/m³ (hour)||160 µg/m³ (hour)||200 µg/m³ (hour)|
|PM10||-||50 µg/m³ (hour)||80 µg/m³ (day) or more than 3 consecutive days 50 µg/m³ (day)|
|Thresholds to be exceeded in more than one XVPCA station in the area|
How to know when it is happening
The Generalitat of Catalonia is responsible for declaring an atmospheric pollution episode at "Early Alert” and "Episode" levels. Barcelona City Council provides for a previous measure-triggering level, the “Close Monitoring”. Actions of the various competent authorities are focused on:
- Reducing circulation of more polluting vehicles.
- Promoting public transport and shifting from private vehicle to public transport.
- Keeping the general public informed about activated public services at their disposal.
- Activating protocols for large emitting industries.
What to do when an episode is announced
Recommended simple actions in order to reduce pollution and protect people’s health:
- Get about on foot or bicycle and use streets with less traffic
- Use public instead of private transport
- If you have to use a private vehicle, share it or combine its use with public transport
- If you exercise outdoors, do it at times when there is traffic on the roads
- Regulate your home's air conditioning and avoid excessive heating or cooling and air your home at times when less traffic on the streets
- Start and stop your vehicle gently and have your tyres adjusted to the pressure they need : that way you will reduce the emission of polluting particles
Restrictions to circulation of more polluting vehicles
Traffic restrictions on more polluting vehicles will be applied from 1 December 2017 onwards, during days with NO2 pollution episodes, from Mondays to Thursday, from 7 am to 8 pm, from Monday to Thursday (Friday pending defining) from the day following the episode declaration until the day that the end of the episode is declared.
As from December 1, 2017:
In the event of a pollution episode, vans before Euro 1 (registered before 1994) and passenger cars Euro 1 or previous (registered before 1997) will not be allowed to circulate within the Àmbit40 Low Emission Zone. This affects 10% of vehicles in Catalonia.
Within the Low Emission Zone in Barcelona's ring-road area, the measure will affect passenger cars without label (gasoline-powered vehicles before 2000 and diesel vehicles before 2006) and vans before Euro 1 (registered before 1994). These restrictions will be progressively expanded until they become permanent in 2020. These restrictions will not apply to the vehicles of people with reduced mobility, emergency services (police, firefighters, ambulances) or essential services (medical and funeral services). Throughout 2017, motorcycles, lorries, coaches, buses and vans with Euro 1, Euro 2 and Euro 3 emission standards will also be exempt.
As from January 1, 2019:
Vans before Euro 1 (registered before 1994) and passenger cars Euro 1 and previous (registered before 1997) will not be allowed to circulate on weekdays within the Àmbit40 area.
As from January 1, 2020:
Vehicles without DGT (Directorate-General of Traffic) label will not be allowed to circulate within the Low Emission Zone in Barcelona's ring-road area (ie, gasoline-powered vehicles before 2000 and diesel vehicles before 2006).
As from January 1, 2025:
Vehicles without DGT label (ie, gasoline-powered vehicles before 2000 and diesel vehicles before 2006) will not be allowed to circulate in any towns of the Barcelona city area.
Àmbit40 Low Emission Zone
Àmbit40 is an area covering 40 municipalities around Barcelona declared as Special Environmental Protection Zones. It results from the commitment from the various administrations involved in achieving common goals to guarantee air quality. The main goal is to protect the health of its 4.3 million inhabitants, as well as the environment, by adopting joint measures to be applied in the whole area. At the same time, Àrea40 towns will be able to establish other measures towards improving air quality thanks to the progressive reduction of air pollution.
Àmbit40 municipalities: Badalona, Badia del Vallès, Barberà del Vallès, Barcelona, Castellbisbal, Castelldefels, Cerdanyola del Vallès, Cornellà de Llobregat, Esplugues de Llobregat, Gavà, Granollers, l’Hospitalet de Llobregat, la Llagosta, Martorell, Martorelles, Molins de Rei, Mollet del Vallès, Montcada and Reixac, Montmeló, Montornès del Vallès, Pallejà, el Papiol, Parets del Vallès, el Prat de Llobregat, Ripollet, Rubí, Sabadell, Sant Adrià de Besòs, Sant Andreu de la Barca, Sant Cugat del Vallès, Sant Feliu de Llobregat, Sant Fost de Campsentelles, Sant Joan Despí, Sant Just Desvern, Sant Quirze del Vallès, Sant Vicenç dels Horts, Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Santa Perpètua de Mogoda, Terrassa and Viladecans.
Low Emission Zone in Barcelona's ring-road area
Low Emision Zone in Barcelona's ring-road area includes the municipality of Barcelona (except Zona Franca and Vallvidrera-Les Planes), L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, and part of the surrounding municipalities Esplugues de Llobregat, Cornellà de Llobregat and Sant Adrià del Besós.The goal is to progressively establish specific measures to protect the health of people living or working within this area.
DGT environmental labels
The vehicle classification system established by DGT aims at positively discriminating environmentally-friendly vehicles and at effectively serving town policies regarding both traffic restriction during high pollution episodes and promotion of new technologies through financial and/or mobility- or environment-related benefits. Vehicle owners will receive these labels at home. Vehicles are divided into five categories, based on pollution potential:
Vehicles failing to meet minimum environmental requirements will not receive a DGT label, ie, gasoline-powered vehicles registered before January 2000 and diesel vehicles registered before January 2006. These vehicles are the ones most affected by mobility restriction or banning measures.
B (yellow label)
Gasoline-powered passenger cars and light vans registered after January 2000 and diesel passenger cars and light vans registered after January 2006. Vehicles with more than 8 seats and those used to transport goods registered after 2005 also use this label. These gasoline-powered vehicles must meet Euro 3 regulations whereas diesel vehicles must meet Euro 4 and 5 regulations.
C (green label)
Gasoline-powered passenger cars and light vans registered after January 2006 and diesel-powered cars registered after 2014. Both gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles with more than 8 seats or those used to transport goods registered after 2014. These gasoline-powered vehicles must meet Euro 4, 5 and 6 regulations, and diesel-powered Euro 6.
ECO (green and blue label)
Label for passenger cars, light vans, vehicles with more than 8 seats and those used to transport goods classified by DGT as plug-in hybrid vehicles with a range of less than 40 km, regular hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), and natural gas (LNG or CNG) and liquefied gas (LPG) vehicles.
Zero emissions (blue label)
Mopeds, tricycles, four-wheeled motorcycles, motorcycles, passenger cars, light vans, vehicles with more than 8 seats or those used to transport goods classified by DGT as battery electric vehicles (BEV), range-extended electric vehicles (REEV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) with a minimum range of 40 km, and fuel cell vehicles.