Madrid smog debate heats up

Thursday 10th Feb 2011 by theWeather Club

The debate about air pollution in the Spanish capital Madrid has hotted up of late with recent weather conditions adding fuel to the already heated rhetoric. Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in Madrid are consistently over the EU hourly limit of 200 micrograms per cubic metre, a situation blamed mainly on car exhaust fumes. But the situation this month has been even worse. An area of high pressure has been sitting over the city, preventing the air pollution from dispersing in the normal way. The increase in pollution levels has resulted in what locals are calling a 'black cap of contamination'.

Madrid's city council has even taken to calling on commuters to use public transport in order to reduce car exhaust levels. It has put up signs on motorway advising drivers of high contamination. The warnings began after NO2 levels were recorded as at least five times above the limit set by the EU as the safe annual average. However the council insists the NO2 levels are not dangerous and that it is merely taking precautions. But environmentalists are not satisfied, saying the city’s air pollution is a continual problem that requires long-term solutions.

The council is already under scrutiny for failing to tackle air pollution, and is suspected by some of distorting air quality data. The mayor has been accused of placing air quality sensors in areas of low pollution. Paco Segura from Ecologists in Action told reporters. "One of the sensors is right at the city limits now where the pollution is very low, and other sensors were moved from busy places and put in parks," he continued. "Usually, nature disperses the pollution and we don't feel the effects. But when nature fails us, like now, we get the full impact." The group - which has lodged a legal complaint against the council - says even though the average annual level of NO2 in Madrid fell slightly in 2010, it is still well above the EU limit.

With no sign of rain, forecasters say particularly high air pollution levels in Madrid will continue until the end of this week at least. But so far, most commuters are ignoring the appeals to take the train. It seems that the Spanish authorities - like others around the world – are finding that getting people out of their cars is a particularly difficult thing to achieve.