The air we breathe and our health

Atmospheric pollution in Barcelona affects the entire population's health every day, though not necessarily in the same way. Children, the elderly and people with health problems, particularly those with asthma or heart or pulmonary disease, suffer more than everyone else from the effects of pollution. Numerous scientific studies show a direct link between exposure to atmospheric pollution and poorer health, both in the short- and long-term. Polluted air causes lung cancer, has clear effects on cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, contributes to the onset of asthma add diabetes, inhibits foetal growth, delays the development of the brain and pulmonary function in children and shortens life expectancy.

Respiratory and cardiovascular problems

Short-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can irritate people's eyes and respiratory systems. The main effects of long-term exposure can be delayed lung development in children, bronchitis in asthmatic children and the appearance of chronic respiratory and cerebrovascular diseases in adults. In particular, suspended particles (PM2.5 and PM10) affect the respiratory tract and cardiovascular system. Long-term exposure to particles in relatively low concentrations, which are normal in urban environments, can affect the lungs and even cause cancer. The finer the particle the more dangerous it is to our health, as it penetrates as far as the inside of the circulatory system and enters the bloodstream.

Delayed brain development in children

Children are one of the population groups worst affected by atmospheric pollution in Barcelona. As newborns and pre-school-age children have a relatively higher rate of breathing, they inhale more atmospheric pollution and, moreover, their lungs and immune system are still not fully developed. According to studies, air pollution levels double during the times of day when children start and finish school. Air pollution can alter the brain's connectivity and delay its development in children, as shown in several research studies conducted by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal).

Delayed foetal growth

Exposure to atmospheric pollution starts before birth. Very fine particles pass from the lungs to the blood and can cross the placenta and reach the foetus. There is clear evidence that exposure to atmospheric pollution during pregnancy has a negative effect on foetal growth. It is estimated that keeping atmospheric-pollution levels in Barcelona under the threshold recommended by the World Health Organisation could prevent as many as 198 cases of underweight births and 68 cases of premature births every year.

Shortened life expectancy

Long-term exposure to atmospheric pollution is associated with a life expectancy of the population that is several months shorter than usual . It is estimated that keeping atmospheric-pollution levels in Barcelona under the threshold recommended by the World Health Organisation could prevent 659 cases of premature deaths every year. 

Scientific studies show that atmospheric pollution harms our health, even when the levels do not exceed the thresholds established under European legislation. On the other hand, it has also been shown that improving air quality improves the population's health.

Recommendations for sports activities

During days when air pollution is especially high, it also has short-term effects on people with chronic respiratory illnesses and heart disease. Such episodes may cause these individuals to experience a worsening in their symptoms as well as a rise in cardiorespiratory-related hospital emergencies and admissions and mortality rates. Where atmospheric pollution is very high, the general population may experience irritation to their throat or eyes and coughing.

Further information on the effects of nitrogen oxides and suspended particles on our health.

The Barcelona Public Health Agency

The Department of Environmental Health at the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB), which has an Atmospheric Pollution Analysis Centre in the city, publishes an assessment report every year on air quality and its development over the years, for each of the regulated pollutants measured at the various stations on the city's atmospheric-pollution monitoring and forecast network. You can also find further information on the effects of nitrogen oxides and suspended particles on our health..

See the Barcelona Public Health Agency report for 2015.

See the Barcelona Public Health Agency report for 2016

See the Barcelona Public Health Agency report for 2017