The north of Italy is among the worst areas in Europe for polluted air, according to new data from the European Environment Agency.
In a study that has classified European cities from the cleanest to the most polluted, Cremona in Lombardy has placed next to last for the average levels of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5, an indicator of pollution levels.
Only Poland fared worse in the study.
As the worst polluted city in Italy, Cremona has recorded a figure of 25.9, classifying as “very poor for levels at and above the European Union limit value of 25,” wrote the report.
It’s closely followed by Vincenza in Veneto, also classified as “very poor”, recording levels of 25.6.
These areas are prone to pollution thanks to their industrial centres and geographical locations, where wind levels are low and where air pollution tends to concentrate.
This type of dirty air can have grave effects, as PM2.5 was responsible for some 52,000 premature deaths in Italy in 2018, according to the EEA.
“Fine particulate matter is the air pollutant with the highest impact on health in terms of premature death and disease,” stated the EEA.
The World Health Organisation has set guidelines for long-term exposure to fine particulate matter to 10 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic metre of air.
The north of Italy has been reporting poor air quality for years, with residents in the Po valley saying they “breathe in poison,”Fabio Cigognini from Milan told AFP in 2019.
The cities in Italy with the cleanest air
At the other end of the scale, topping the table for the cleanest air in Italy is Sassari in Sardinia, with “good” levels of small-particle pollution, recording a figure of 5.8 and ranking 14th for the whole of Europe.
The cities in Italy recorded as the cleanest for air pollution. Sassari is the cleanest in Italy and 14th in Europe. Source: EEA
It’s followed by Genova in second place with a figure of 7.1 and Livorno in third, recording 8.8, ranking 26th and 64th for the whole of Europe respectively.
A total of six cities in Italy have been classified as “good for levels of fine particulate matter that are under the annual guideline value of the World Health Organisation of 10,” wrote the report.
Some 20 cities in Italy placed as having “poor” levels of fine particulate matter “for levels from 15 to below 25,” stated the report.
Across the whole of the European cities surveyed, the three cleanest cities were Umeå in Sweden, Tampere in Finland and Funchal in Portugal.
The study said the worst polluted city in Europe is Nowy Sącz in Poland, followed by Cremona in Italy and Slavonski Brod in Croatia.
The data showed the average levels over a two-year period and only covers cities that could consistently provide reports, so not all cities in Italy and Europe have been included.
Cities in Italy that have reported no data include Bari, Padua and Como.
Places with no data either don’t have data monitoring stations, don’t report data for at least 75 percent of the year or aren’t included in the European Commission’s so-called Urban Audit.
Links between air pollution and the pandemic
The findings also noted that Covid-19 has had repercussions on air pollution.
“Measures taken by governments across Europe in early 2020 to manage the outbreak had an impact on many of the upstream economic activities that drive emissions of air pollutants, thus affecting air quality,” stated the report.
This is despite that fact that “lockdown measures introduced by most European countries to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020 led to significant reductions in emissions of air pollutants,” the report added.
The report found that nitrogen dioxide levels fell by more than 60 percent in some cities across Europe. Levels of particulate matter also declined, but less steeply, with drops of roughly 20-30 percent recorded in levels of large particulates (PM 10) last April.
PM10 refers to the size of particulate matter in the air, with the number indicating how many microns, or tiny units of measurement with one micron equalling 1000th of a millimetre in diameter.
The study also highlighted a relationship between Covid-19 and air pollution.
They found a “possible effect of air pollution on vulnerability and susceptibility to COVID-19” and also noted the “possible role of air pollution in spreading SARS- CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” the findings showed.
According to the study, which monitored 323 cities in 2019 and 2020, some 127 – or around 40 percent – of the European cities surveyed were below World Health Organisation recommended limits.
To check the air pollution levels of where you live, this interactive table will allow you to compare your city with the rest of Europe.