Measures in Europe during the Occurrence of Smog

The measures to be taken in case of prolongedly extremely high levels of ambient air pollution (hereafter, for simplicity: smog) vary greatly in the different European countries: in some places the rules are strict, elsewhere they are more tolerant, and in many regions regulation is inadequate – shows a report of the Clean Air Action Group.

The last winter season has brought to Europe a long period with temperatures far below zero degrees. A persistent inversion weather situation caused additionally a temporary deterioration of the air quality. In Hungary and other European regions, persistent periods were present with high emissions in form of PM10. Thus, it caused an extraordinary burden on human health. In order to counteract the danger and make the population aware of this, various mechanisms exist in European cities.

One extreme case is Poland. During smog periods, the information threshold comes into force when the PM10 concentration exceeds 200 micrograms per cubic meter. The alarm threshold is at 300 micrograms (Hungary’s limit is 75 and 100 micrograms, respectively). Alternatively, Polish municipalities are able to apply stricter values on a local level.

In other countries, however, the level of pollution declared to be hazardous is much lower than that of Hungary. For example, in Finland, the smog alarm level is at a concentration above 50 micrograms. According to EU rules, this value marks the threshold for the protection of human health. However, in several countries (e.g. Austria, France, Italy) the threshold is at the same time the information level, and, moreover, the alarm level is much lower than in Hungary.

Measures imposed during smog generally have many similarities across Europe. These include limiting motor vehicle traffic, free access to public transport, reducing air pollution from industrial activities, and requests to households to avoid heating with solid fuels. Speed limits are introduced at a number of places (e.g. in Belgium 90 km/h on motorways, and 50 km/h on roads where otherwise 70-90 km/h are allowed). There is an even-odd license number based limitation (e.g. in Brussels, Madrid, Paris and Sarajevo). In many cities, it is prescribed that the public buildings should be heated to only to certain temperatures (for example, up to 19 degrees Celsius in Lyon). A special case is Bergen, Norway, where a fee for city access has been in place already for many years: During smog periods, the fee is increased five times (25 Euros in peak time for cars, otherwise 10 Euros, and twice as much for trucks).

In many places there is no regulation for measures during smog, because the focus lies on preventive measures in order to avoid high air pollution.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Picture: Smog in Warsaw (