• In 2017, 45 million people breathed polluted air in Spain
  • The annual report on air quality by Ecologistas en Acción concludes that 97 % of the population and 88 % of the land were exposed to unhealthy pollution levels
  • The new economic cycle kicked off the use of fossil fuels and climate change brought about the hottest and driest year since 1965

[Informe] La calidad del aire en el Estado español durante 2017

The report developed by Ecologistas en Acción analyzes the data harvested from over 800 official measuring stations throughout Spain, including for the first time stations at the state ports. The report includes exhaustive data on air quality, broken-down according to autonomous communities (regions) and cities and to pollutants.

Highlights of the main findings include:

— In 2017 there was an overall increase in the levels of pollution of particulate matter (PM10y PM2,5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), tropospheric ozone (O3) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), the second such increase since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, which explains the noticeable worsening of the situation and the greater exposure to the population and land.

— The report by Ecologistas en Acción uses as a reference point the maximum levels of pollution recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the long-term vegetation protection goal established by the European Union. According to these levels, in 2017 polluted air affected 45 million people in Spain, 97 % of the population, as well as 442.000 square kilometers of land, 88% of the territory.

— If the standards from the Spanish and European regulations are applied, which are weaker than the recommendations by the WHO, the portion of the population that breathed polluted air exceeding legal limits is 17,5 million people, 38 % of the total and a half-million more affected individuals with respect to 2016. In other words, two out of every five Spanish people breathed air that violated the limits put forth by the law. And the land exposed to pollution levels that damage vegetation reached 296.000 km2, 52 % of the state and 40.000 km2 more than in 2016.

— High temperatures and the long-lasting drought have intensified pollution episodes. The strong spring and summer heat demonstrates that the ozone levels have significantly increased in 2017 in a large portion of Spain. The steadiness and dryness of the fall has brought with it NO2 and particles urban pollution episodes, such as the prolonged episode between the 15th and the 25th of this past November. Climate change feeds back into air pollution; however, it is not its cause but rather its consequence.

— The primary source of pollution in urban areas, where the greatest portion of the population is concentrated, is road traffic. In certain industrial areas and in those within the vicinity of the largest thermal power plants, may them be fueled by coal or other fossil fuels, are these industrial sources that decisively predetermine the air quality. Maritime transportation has a large impact in the air quality of coastal regions and in those connected to ports such as Alicante, Almería, A Coruña, Avilés, Barcelona, Cartagena, Gijón, Santander and Tarragona.

— The particles (PM10 y PM2,5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the air affected four fifths of the country’s population. They thus continue to be a serious health threat. The areas of Algeciras, Avilés, Bailén, Barcelona, Bilbao, A Coruña, Gijón, Granada, Madrid, Marbella, Murcia, Puertollano, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Sevilla, Talavera de la Reina y Villanueva del Arzobispo, and the majority of Canarias, exceeded the legal limits in 2017 of some of these pollutants.

— The ozone is the pollutant with the broader scope and greater effect on the population, with some levels remaining steady or even increasing, due to the rise of the average temperatures and the heat waves in the spring and summer. This is such that the majority of the Spanish population and territory has continued to be exposed to an ozone concentration that is dangerous to human and vegetative health.

— The change in the economic cycle has brought with it an increase in the burning of fossil fuels in regards to transportation, industry and the production of electricity, with energy use at the same level as at the beginning of the crisis and renewable energy experiencing its worst situation for the last decade. The increase in air pollution in 2017 is a consequence primarily of the new economic situation; this is a warning of an incoming overall tendency change, after several years cutting back the classic pollutants.

— Air pollution must be addressed as a critical problem. Each year Spain reports up to 30.000 premature deaths from diseases caused by air pollution, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA). The information made accessible to the population is neither sufficient nor in accordance with the gravity of the problem.

— Health costs caused by air pollution represent a minimum of 50.000 million dollars a year, 3,5 % of the Spanish GDP, according to the World Bank, without taking into consideration the costs of the damages to crops and natural ecosystems.

— Both the Plans to Improve Air Quality and the Action Plans (aimed to reduce pollution in the short-run), are mandatory according to current law. However, in many cases they do not exist, and in other cases they are ineffective due to a lack of political will. The Air Plan II of the Central Government is nothing more than a document of good intentions, without legal rank and lacking efficient mechanisms and funding. It also avoids addressing the problem of excessive ozone, an administrative negligence that Ecologistas en Acción has brought to the National Audience.

— The main way to reduce air pollution is through a reduction of road traffic, a decrease in the need for mobility and a boost in public transportation. It is also essential to facilitate the use of bicycles in cities. Equally paramount is the overall adoption of the best industrial techniques available (BAT) and the drastic reduction in the electricity generated by thermoelectric plants -in particular those that use coal-, the return to renewable energy and the penalization of diesel and waste incineration. Lastly, Ecologistas en Acción demands the new government to promote an emmissions control area for the emissions of international maritime transportation in all European waters; such instrument already exists in the Baltic and the North Sea.