Pollution in the capital area has exceeded the health-protection limit 19 times so far this year, which is more than the permissible number for an entire year, RÚV reports. The law authorises restricting car traffic on days when the limit is exceeded, but such measures have yet to be implemented.
Legal authorisation yet to be translated into regulation
The Environment Agency of Iceland’s air quality metres continually measure the air quality in the city and publishes results every hour. At 6 PM yesterday, the pollution exceeded health protection limits for the nineteenth time in 2023, RÚV reports. According to the regulations of the Ministry of the Environment, the limit can only be exceeded eighteen times a year.
There are no precedents for such high levels of pollution in recent years, according to Svava S. Steinarsdóttir, a health representative at the Reykjavík City Public Health Authority.
“We haven’t seen such high numbers until the last few years,” Svava told RÚV.
The increase goes hand in hand with the increase in car traffic, powered by petrol and diesel. The weather also has its say: calm or little wind combined with the recent day’s frost means that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) hovers over the city for longer periods.
Svava stated that exceeding health-protection limits was serious, given that these limits were set to protect citizens. “We may need to consider encouraging people to use more ecological means of transport.”
Municipalities are authorised by law to restrict traffic on days when pollution is high. However, that authorisation has not yet been translated into regulation.
Svava added that the Environment Agency of Iceland has mentioned radical measures, such as traffic restrictions, in its contingency plans. So far, the agency´s only option is to encourage people to reduce emissions from private cars and studded tires.