Fresh air for Barcelona
Breathing polluted air has negative effects on our health. There are many factors that lower air quality, although there are also a number of minor actions that can be taken in various areas to improve it. Barcelona City Council is working to ensure the air we breathe is of the best possible quality.
How does the air I breathe affect me?
Although it is usually invisible, atmospheric pollution causes cancer and respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological and immunological illnesses. The World Health Organisation (WHO) confirms that millions of people die prematurely as a result of polluted air. It is therefore essential to have optimal air quality, so that people's health is not negatively affected.
What causes air pollution?
There are many natural sources which cannot be controlled, such as the Saharan dust clouds that occasionally cross the Mediterranean. But Barcelona's pollution mainly comes from motorised transport and, to a lesser extent, industrial activities.
Millions of motorised-vehicle journeys take place every day in Barcelona and its metropolitan area, which all contribute to raising air pollution levels through exhaust fumes. The biggest polluters are the vehicles with diesel engines, especially the older ones. Vehicles also release harmful particles that come from road surfaces, tyres and brakes. It is estimated that over 60% of nitrogen dioxide, which is one of the most dangerous pollutants in Barcelona's air, comes from this daily vehicle traffic.
Industrial activities, mainly construction work, generate a lot of suspended particles, which are very dangerous pollutants when breathed in.
Air and sea transport have increased exponentially in recent years. Even so, there is no data to indicate that Prat Airport and Barcelona Port' s increased activity has led to increased pollution over the whole metropolitan area.
Why doesn't pollution disperse easily?
To a large extent, the accumulation of pollutant gases and particles depends on the weather. Logically, when there is abundant rain, toxic gases and suspended particles end up in the sewer system and the atmosphere becomes clean. By contrast, if there is no rain or wind for many days, the air gradually becomes charged and can reach air pollution levels that are dangerous to everyone's health.
Barcelona's geography is complex, because it lies between the Collserola mountain range and the Port, and between Montjuïc mountain and the River Besòs. It therefore tends to accumulate pollution, making dispersal and atmospheric dilution difficult, especially in anticyclonic conditions.
How can air quality be improved?
The only truly effective way is to reduce the number of vehicles entering, leaving and travelling around the city, while also ensuring that those vehicles generate as little pollution as possible. We need to promote safer, fairer, more sustainable and more efficient mobility that enables the general public to carry on as usual while reducing their ecological footprint. This is the path that now being taken by big cities such as London and Paris, which are establishing measures to bring about a reduction in the number of vehicles there.
Government Measure Programme of anti-air pollution measures
In November 2016 the Barcelona City Council presented the Government Measure Programme of anti-air pollution measures, including structural measures and extraordinary measures to deal with occasional episodes.
As part of its Urban Mobility Plan, Barcelona City Council has already set major changes in motion, including:
- Improving its ground-level public-transport network, starting with the deployment of the orthogonal bus network and the connection of the tram lines on Av. Diagonal.
- Opting for bicycles, with a €32 million investment programme to achieve a 300-kilometre bicycle-lane network by 2018.
- Reclaiming quality urban areas for pedestrians as part of new urban models, such as superblocks.
- Increasing the number of clean (hybrid or electric) vehicles used in the city's bus networks, cleaning services and Guàrdia Urbana police force.
Meanwhile, the Port of Barcelona and Prat Airport, two of the city's crucial infrastructures, have been working to implement measures that reduce pollution.
What is the Barcelona Air Quality Improvement Plan and what is it used for?
The 2015-2018 Barcelona Air Quality Improvement Plan is a Barcelona City Council document that includes all the initiatives, plans and measures aimed at reducing air pollution levels in the city up to 2018.
Pollution in Barcelona