High Levels of Gas Pollution over Weekend, Areas of Grindavík Fenced Off

lava, hraun, eruption, eldgos

Significant levels of gas pollution were detected in Grindavík over the weekend. Parts of town were also closed off over the weekend, and the Blue Lagoon closure has been extended.

Highest levels of SO2 since records began

“Especially on Saturday, there was an unusually high level [of SO2] in Grindavík,” stated Þorsteinn Jóhannsson, an air quality specialist at the Environment Agency, to RÚV. Readings are said to have topped out at 9,000 μg/m, or around 3 parts per million.

Although the highest levels were reached only briefly, the recordings are the highest-ever in an inhabited area since records began.

Such levels are considered by the Environment Agency of Iceland to be “Unhealthy.”

The high levels of SO2 are of course due to Grindavík’s proximity to the latest eruption.

According to RÚV, the Met Office also installed three new gas monitors in and near Grindavík over the weekend.

One is at the harbour, another at Húsafell mountain near the live webcam, and the third at the Blue Lagoon.

Travellers and residents can monitor the air quality in Iceland live here.

Areas of Grindavík fenced off

Additionally, nine dangerous areas in Grindavík were fenced off over the weekend following the results of a geological survey. Vísir reports.

The survey was conducted with ground-penetrating radar, reaching depths of 4 – 4.5 metres [15 feet] in order to search for sinkholes or fissures that prove hazardous.

“We quickly scan with shallow ground-penetrating radar (COBRA) and then use deeper radar in areas where we see indications of cracks or voids,” Hallgrímur Örn Arngrímsson, the project manager for the survey at Verkís, stated to Vísir.

“And what has emerged is that there are nine locations in the western part of town that we need to examine more closely and report those findings to Civil Protection authorities.” Hallgrímur continued.

The engineering firm Verkís is responsible for carrying out the geological survey of Grindavík, but it will ultimately be up to the Grindavík town council to take action, whether that means repairing roads, filling in cracks, or condemning certain parts of town.

As a protective measure, several areas in Grindavík were fenced off to prevent residents and workers from venturing into the dangerous areas.

Blue Lagoon closure extended

Today, March 25, the Blue Lagoon also extended its temporary closure through Wednesday, March 27.

Read more here.


Efling Members to Vote on a Near 1700-Person Strike Thursday

efling union hotel strike

Last Sunday, Efling’s negotiating committee unanimously approved three additional strike actions, Vísir reports. If these actions are approved by union members, an additional 1700 workers would go on strike by the end of the month.

Voting to begin on Thursday

On Sunday, February 12, the negotiating committee of the Efling union unanimously approved the motion to put three strike notices to a vote among members. If approved, approximately 1700 Efling members are set to go on strike. These include employees of hotels, including the hotel chains Centerhotels and Keahótels; security companies, including Securitas and Öryggismiðstöðin; and cleaning companies, including Sólar and Dagar, alongside other smaller cleaning companies.

“Efling’s previous three strike notices were approved with a decisive majority and a good turnout,” a statement from Efling notes. “ Voting starts at noon on Thursday and ends at 6 PM on Monday.”

The announcement also quotes Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of Efling, as saying: “Over the last few weeks, the voting on strikes has clearly demonstrated that essential workers in all sectors of the labour market in the capital region are united. Our demand is for a fair wage agreement that takes into account the circumstances and composition of our members. I encourage negotiating parties to strike an agreement with us.”

700 already on strike – and more to go on strike tomorrow

Last week, nearly 700 Efling union members went on strike at seven hotels belonging to the Íslandshotel chain in Reykjavík – and tomorrow is expected to see more union members join those strikes, including workers employed by other hotels, oil truck drivers in the capital area, and employees of the shipping company Samskip.

Yesterday, the Court of Appeal (Landsréttur) ruled that the Efling union does not need to hand over its membership registry to the state mediator. Following the ruling, the state mediator was given permission by the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market to step aside. The Director General of the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), Halldór Benjamín Þórbergsson, stated that he regrets the mediator’s decision.

Today, Halldór Benjamín told Vísir that he did not rule out the possibility of the government intervening to block Efling’s strikes. Otherwise, society would become paralyzed by or after the weekend.

“In the coming days, society will feel the effects of strikes in a tangible way. I predict that either side of the weekend, most of our daily lives will be paralysed. Politicians cannot afford to stand on the sidelines when such a situation has arisen,” Halldór Benjamín stated.

Efling Strikes: Gas Stations Could Run Dry as Early as Thursday

driving in reykjavík

The CEO of Skeljungur says that gas stations could run out of gas as early as Thursday if oil truck drivers begin strikes on Wednesday, Vísir reports. The Director General of the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise has called the Efling union’s strikes “pointless.”

Strikes around the corner

There is still no progress in the wage dispute between the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA); strikes of oil truck drivers, Beraya hotel employees, and Edition hotel employees are looming. If no settlement is reached, strikes will begin this Wednesday, and if they do – oil companies’ provisions are expected to run dry quickly.

Þórður Guðjónsson, CEO of Skeljungur – Shell’s official reseller in Iceland – told Vísir yesterday that he was concerned about the situation. Efling union members have been preparing for the strike since they voted on the matter earlier this month.

“This is a matter of concern because Iceland is dependent on oil, and it is quite clear that this will hit us pretty hard if it happens. Since it was announced that a strike was planned beginning on midday, Wednesday, February 16, we began filling all of our supply tanks,” Þórður remarked.

It doesn’t take many days to empty a gas station, Þórður noted – even high-capacity stations like Orkan on Vesturlandsvegur (where the interview was conducted): “It will probably be empty on day two after the strike, so we’re talking late evening on Thursday, this station could start to run dry.”

The effects of the strikes could prove multifaceted: freight transport and tourism, for example, would suffer from the gas shortage, while various essential services would be exempted from the strike. “The police, ambulances, the fire brigade, our search-and-rescue teams, those who handle anti-icing, snow ploughs, the hospitals, back-up stations, and god knows what; these services are among those that would be exempt,” Þórður Guðjónsson observed.

The strikes are “pointless”

Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Chair of the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise, was interviewed on the radio programme Sprengisandur yesterday morning. He claimed that Efling’s strikes were pointless.

“There is no purpose to Efling’s current strikes. There are no negotiation meetings scheduled. The state mediator called a meeting last week, but Efling refused to attend. This is absolutely central to this discussion. Because the purpose and nature of strikes are to force the contracting party to conclude a collective agreement – but there are no meetings in this dispute. The only thing that the parties are waiting for is the Court of Appeal’s ruling, and when that ruling is made, the progress of the labour dispute will be determined,” Halldór Benjmaín stated.

If the Court of Appeal confirms the ruling of the District Court of Reykjvík, the Efling union would be forced to hand over its electoral roll (i.e. membership registry) and then vote on the state mediator’s proposal; their agreement would be the equivalent of a collective agreement.

“There are only two options that can arise. On the one hand, the members of Efling accept the mediation proposal, and the mediation proposal will then be the equivalent of a collective bargaining agreement, effective retroactively from November 1, 2022. Then, in fact, this cycle of collective bargaining in the Icelandic labour market would almost be over,” Halldór Benjamín concluded.