80% Spanish population is exposed to excessive air pollution

by Lorraine Williamson
air pollution

MADRID – 80% of the Spanish population lives in areas that exceed the new air pollution limits that the EU is preparing. This is according to a report by Ecologistas en Acción. 

The report, based on data from 680 monitoring stations across 132 geographic areas, shows that by 2022, 37.8 million people are living in areas that would exceed stricter air pollution limits. These new limits are stricter than current standards and would expose the entire Spanish population to harmful particles responsible for 25,000 deaths per year in the country. 

General increase in air pollution 

While air pollution levels in 2022 were lower than before the pandemic, the report points to an overall increase since 2020. Air pollution remains the leading cause of death worldwide and is 15 times more deadly than road accidents in Spain. In addition to the negative health effects, it also has an economic impact, with an annual loss of 3.5% of GDP. 

Nitrogen dioxide and ozone 

The report focuses on regulatory limits for fine particles, nitrogen dioxide and ozone, which were exceeded by 7.6 million people by 2022. Although this is an improvement from 2017, it is still disturbing. Barcelona was the only city to exceed the nitrogen dioxide limit, while Madrid and other major cities remained below it, albeit above the European Commission’s new limit and WHO recommendation. 

Madrid and Barcelona 

The report also highlights that Madrid and Barcelona, already condemned for breaching pollution thresholds, have joined other polluted regions in the EU in advocating higher levels in the new air quality directive, which Ecologistas and Acción label as “outrageous”. Although both cities have introduced low-emission zones, air quality in Madrid remains close to the limit. 

Pollution mainly from traffic in cities 

The pollution is largely attributed to traffic in cities, with most cities with populations over 50,000 violating the Climate Change Act, which requires traffic restrictions. The report criticises the lack of political will to introduce low-emission zones, even after the allocation of €1.5 billion from the EU Recovery Fund. If cities don’t use the money for low-emission zones, they have to pay it back. 

Cogesa Expats

Also read: It´s goodbye to cycle lanes and environmental zones in Spain

Public health should not be politicised 

With the elections looming, the report emphasises the need for new mayors to act responsibly and comply with the Climate Change Act. It’s a public health issue that shouldn’t be left unpoliticised, but unfortunately, it is. 

No sanctions for violations 

Several cities, such as Valladolid and Gijón, have questioned the low-emission zones after a change in the municipal administration. Ecologistas en Acción points out that the cities that violate the Climate Change Act will not be sanctioned. Therefore, the organisation calls for accountability and emphasises that the use of EU funds must be justified by the creation of low-emission zones before the end of 2024. 

High mortality rates 

The report highlights the serious impact of air pollution on public health, particularly in Spain, where death rates, as a result, are alarmingly high. Moreover, it calls for a coordinated effort by both the government and local authorities to take effective measures to improve air quality and ensure compliance with the new European limits. 

Also read: OCU makes suggestions for improving low-emission zones (LEZs) in Spain 

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