Heatwave makes Alicante province the most polluted in Spain
The intense heatwave of this month of August in the province caused the levels of ground-level ozone or “bad” ozone, the inhalation of which is toxic to people, as well as airborne particles, by effect. combined. polluting emissions from motorized traffic, maritime transport in coastal areas and the arrival of Saharan dust from North Africa.
Climate change is worsening summer episodes of air pollution, according to environmentalists and researchers at the University of Alicante, led by the province, due to its alarming levels of “dirty air” both on the coast and inland. Its inhalation causes irritation of the respiratory tract and eyes, and aggravates pulmonary and cardiovascular pathologies.
The Carlos III Health Institute estimated 3,500 annual deaths caused by short-term exposure to particulate matter and ozone in thirty Spanish provinces where a significant association between air pollution and mortality was found.
The worst data was recorded from August 10 to 17 on the coast and other days in the region of Alcoy, Elda and Elche
One of the most serious episodes of the summer was carried out in the capital of Alicante, which for seven days in August (from 10 to 17) tripled the daily limit value of PM10 particles, below 10 microns, ” that can enter the respiratory tract. and reach the trachea. They do not reach the lungs because their diameter is not small enough to pass through the alveoli or reach the bloodstream, but they can aggravate cardiovascular and respiratory diseases ”, explains Miguel Ángel Ceballos, spokesperson for Environmentalists in action.
The heat wave worsens the quality of the air we breathe in the province
The fundamental explanation for such an increase in particles was the arrival of dust from North Africa pushed by an air mass which raised temperatures to 40 degrees. Clues increase when added urban traffic and industrial activities in port cities such as loading and unloading by commercial traffic. This is what triggered particulate pollution in Alicante, ranking first out of 55 Spanish cities in which this value has been measured (using instruments from the Ministry of Ecological Transition and the Autonomous Communities), with 145 micrograms of suspended particles per cubic meter. The legal limit is 50.
“Ozone does not affect people because there is a lack of oxygen in the air but because of its toxicity”
The same goes for the “bad” ozone, which in Alcoy last August reached 197 micrograms per cubic meter of air, which is very poor quality since the maximum limit recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) is 120. It is a secondary pollutant, which is not emitted directly into the air by any source related to man, but is formed in the lower atmosphere, on the surface of the earth, “by chemical reactions with other pollutants such as traffic, industrial activity or solar radiation. . It is a typically summer phenomenon, which is why the levels soared during the heatwave this summer, ”says Ceballos. It should be remembered, however, that the pandemic put an end to industrial and transport activities, and with it to ozone.
Strangely this year, ground-level ozone levels in the province in the spring were also very high, with areas like Alicante itself and the Orihuela region where, from late March to late June, the WHO recommendation was been exceeded and the limit was exceeded in 11 days. legal (it’s less strict), a phenomenon already studied by environmentalists. However, the ten measuring stations across the province also recorded significant peaks this summer, notably July 30 and 31 and August 16, coinciding with high tourist attendance. Also on other dates in August, in inland regions such as Alcoy, Orihuela and Elda and in heavily populated municipalities such as Elche and Torrevieja.
Each year it will be more difficult to tackle this problem if we do not replace fossil fuels with
Ground-level ozone doesn’t mean oxygen is lacking, but the air is dirtier and toxicity affects people, says professor of environmental technologies at the University of the University of Alicante, Adoración Carratalá. “Ozone is a gas that is generated primarily by traffic, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons, and attempts are being made to lower these sources so that the levels drop. Its polluting effects, like those of particles, are described by the WHO, and for this reason there are limits from which respiratory or cardiac symptoms begin to appear. In meteorological situations such as a heat wave, when masses come from North Africa already loaded with particles, there is little air and the pollutants are concentrated ”. Environmentalists point out that Saharan dust itself incorporates toxic substances emitted by Algerian and Moroccan industries. On the other hand, there is no concern about the emission of particles from air conditioners. As its source of energy is electricity, it is produced in power plants and this is not the case in Alicante.
One of the regions where the air is the “dirtiest” this summer due to ground-level ozone is Alcoy. La Colla Ecologista La Carrasca-Ecologistes in Acció denounces that on August 14, in the heat of the heatwave, the city exceeded the level of 180 micrograms of tropospheric ozone per cubic meter of air, which, according to the legislation in force , “demanded the authorities to inform the population most sensitive to air pollution. The group denounces not having proof that the Generalitat, or any other administration, has adequately reported, which would imply” a violation of the law ”.
“When particulate-laden air arrives from North Africa, pollutants concentrate”
The main ozone exceedances in the Community were recorded on August 13 in Sagunto and on August 14 in Alcoy. In the latter city, the “Virgen de los Lirios” station, located in the Zona Norte district, recorded a pollution level of up to 197 micrograms of ground-level ozone per cubic meter of air. “It makes no sense to allocate public resources to control pollution levels if when they are exceeded, the population is not properly informed,” insist environmentalists. In 1992, following WHO recommendations, the population information limit was set at 180 micrograms of tropospheric ozone per cubic meter of air, because it represents a health risk, especially for vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with respiratory or cardiovascular problems. When this level is exceeded, explains the group, “it is important to warn those most sensitive to air pollution so that they can protect themselves and avoid physical exertion and exercise outside during central hours. of the day and the afternoon ”. They also consider that the authorities “must report on the forecast of the evolution of pollution, the areas affected and the duration of the episode”.
There are particles not so small that they enter the lungs or the bloodstream but reach the trachea
In January this year, Ecologistes en Acció del País Valencià, an organization of which La Carrasca de Alcoy is a member, lodged a complaint against the Generalitat before the High Court of Justice of Valencia for “failing to develop and implement plans to improve air quality in the face of repeated non-compliance with objective values for ground-level ozone pollution ”. Environmentalists hope the sentence will be handed down in the coming months.
A dirtier atmosphere due to climate change
Environmentalists warn that climate change, while not the cause, is making the problem worse. poor air quality because the episodes of temperature rise are more frequent. “The heat waves are longer and more virulent. These are natural conditions that join anthropogenic wings such as emissions from transport or industry. Each year it will be more difficult until we are able to replace fossil fuel sources with clean ones. Ultimately, the use of fossil fuels causes climate change and air pollution, ”they insist. In the event of pollution by the “bad” ozone, two thirds of the cultures and a good part of the forests support levels which damage the vegetation, which weakens, warn the ecologists.