Come midnight on New Year’s Eve, you could hardly see the fireworks for the smoke in many parts of Reykjavík. The environmental health department has confirmed that pollution levels were well over the average, and represented the highest level of PM10 particulates ever recorded – 1800 µg/m3 in one residential area, which is meant to typify the average residential neighborhood. For comparison, there is a health risk if the level exceeds 50 µg/m3 . Visibility was down to about 50 m at times, thus muting the effect of the fireworks, black smoke hung in the air from torches, and the smell from the smoke and unseen pollutants was so pungent that this writer had to hold her nose for most of the time.
The pollution, which is nearly always apparent after midnight on New Year’s Eve but never to this extent, was exacerbated by the calm weather. Although earlier in the evening there had been snow and some wind, this cleared up shortly before midnight when Icelanders traditionally set off the most fireworks. Pollution levels remained above 50µg/m3 until 7.30 am. Strong winds cleared the air later on Sunday morning.
Lúdvík Gústafsson, from the environmental health department, said that they would publish the results on their homepage, and expect considerable discussion to arise as a result. The sale of fireworks traditionally goes towards funding search and rescue work, but Gústafsson said that there must be other ways for this to be funded.