Taking care of the air we breathe
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End production: 21/11/2012 First transmission: 05/02/2013
Air pollution – including fine particle emissions – represents a major risk to public health. With the European Commission conducting a major policy review in this area in 2013, reducing air pollution and improving the overall quality of ambient air is a key challenge to which the EU and Europeans are actively responding
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What do a diesel car and a chicken have in common? It may seem like a strange question. But if you look at them in terms of air quality, a chicken raised in the Netherlands and a car registered in Italy have one thing in common: they both give off what are called fine particles. These particles cause problems on a local, regional and European-wide scale. Today we’re taking a look at two different approaches to tackling the issue – in the Netherlands and Italy.
ITV Marina Camatini,
Head of Polaris Research Centre, Milan, Italy
Fine particles penetrate deep into the lungs during respiration. When one takes in air, one also takes in fine particles that penetrate deep into the lungs, into the epithelium of the lungs.
Atmospheric pollution affects the human organism. Patients and doctors of the pneumology department at the Monza hospital in Italy know this only too well. Fine particles and other atmospheric pollutants provoke irritations, respiratory problems and cardiovascular diseases.
ITV Prof. Alberto Pesci,
Head of Clinical Pulmonary Department, San Gerardo Hospital, Monza, Italy
It leads to an increase in the frequency of chronic conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive bronchitis. Some data suggest an increase in the occurrence of lung cancer. The other organ involved in this battle is the heart, along with all the blood vessels.
Let’s take a closer look at cars registered in Italy. Milan is a highly polluted city. There are two main reasons for this: the high number of cars on the roads and the particular geographical conditions – Milan and the Lombardy region are situated in a basin. This means that traffic jams and smog abound. And so, here more than elsewhere, vehicles and air quality have long been considered to go hand-in-hand.
ITV Gian Luca Gurrieri,
Head of Air Pollution Protection and Physical Pollution Prevention, Lombardy Region, Italy
As far as mobility is concerned, stricter and stricter limits have been introduced, especially regarding diesel. Over the years, this fuel has proved to be highly polluting, according to the WHO’s latest declarations.
Since 2008, the Lombardy region has attacked the root of the problem and has prohibited over one million diesel vehicles from taking to the roads. The vehicles affected by the ban belong to an earlier generation with more polluting engines. They're banned from the roads on weekdays for a period of six months, from mid-October to mid-April.
ITV Dr Maurizio Gualtieri,
University of Milano–Bicocca, Italy
Previous generation diesel engines such as Euro 0, 1, 2, produce very high emissions of fine particles per kilometre. The development of diesel engines and technologies to eliminate fine particles – the DPF, diesel particulate filters – have made it possible to massively reduce the quantity of fine particles released by Euro 4 and 5 engines and the new generation diesels.
The installation of diesel particulate filters is one of the solutions recommended by the Lombardy region to improve the environmental performance of vehicles not only for cars, but also for public transport. Here in the Milan bus depot, mechanics are replacing old exhaust pipes with some new equipment, including particulate filters. Over 2 000 buses will be renovated in this way.
ITV Gian Luca Gurrieri
In the case of buses, it was important to be able to install particulate filters. The filters are more economical. These buses are very expensive and highly polluting. Regional grants have been used to bring them into conformity with the most rigorous standards.
The Lombardy region has also pushed drivers to use cleaner fuels. Some 130 petrol stations are equipped with methane pumps and 400 with liquid petroleum gas, or LPG.
Moreover, for the past two years, the region has been testing a new fuel composed of methane and hydrogen.
By the looks of the queue at this station near the motorway, alternative fuels have become commonplace. Car manufacturers have accompanied the movement and offer specific clean-fuel drive mechanisms on some models.
ITV Martino Palermo,
Head of Fuel Distribution Network, Lombardy, Italy
Traditional liquid fuels mainly release PM10 [particles in suspension], NOx [Nitrogen Oxide] and CO2 [Carbon Dioxide]. These three substances are the most typical pollutants from combustion engines. With methane and LPG, PM10 figures fall almost to zero, CO2 is reduced by 30 % and NOx by 10 %.
Let’s now return to the centre of Milan. We’re in the middle of rush hour, just a few hundred metres from the historical centre of the city. Despite the time of day, the area is surprisingly calm. These signs, placed along the collection of ring roads – or the Great Belt – are the main spur for this relative calm. Vehicles using traditional fuels must pay a fee of EUR 5 to enter the so-called ‘Area C’.
ITV Bruno Vilavecchia,
Area Manager of the Mobility and Environment Agency, Milan, Italy
There is an electronic system in 43 access gates situated on the Milan ring road. These gates have cameras that recognise the vehicle’s licence plate number. Payment is centrally controlled. If the sum is not paid, the driver receives a fine thanks to a system of archives.
As a result, the air in parks in the city of Milan is significantly less charged with fine particles: a boon for children, pregnant women, and the elderly – people traditionally most affected by diseases related to fine particles. Previously, 130 000 vehicles were on the roads in the zone on a day-to-day basis. Today, they number 80 000, a reduction of 50 000 vehicles.
Let us now head north, to the Netherlands. At first glance, given the greenness of the surroundings, the landscape appears even more idyllic than the Milanese park. Yet air quality is one of the major worries of this small country, of which two-thirds of the surface area is given over to agriculture. Some 17 million people, 1.5 million cows, 12 million pigs and 100 million chickens co-habit here.
ITV Johan Klitsie,
Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment
When the environment is burdened, the people are quickly affected by it. That's why it's necessary that we in Holland make many more efforts than in other countries to achieve that environmental quality and air quality that is necessary – the quality we agreed on at European level.
This hangar is being used to raise chickens.. In the Netherlands, farming and breeding are amongst the biggest emitters of fine particles, along with road transport and industry. Therefore, the particles must be contained inside the building. Here, this is done by ionisation: these cables carry a current of 30 000 volts and particles are attracted to them like a magnet. Emissions are thereby reduced in this way by 50 %.
ITV Twan Colbers,
Farmer, Kessel, the Netherlands
Right now there's less dust in the stable because the chicks are only five days old. The stables have just been cleaned and rearranged. So there's hardly any dust right now. At the end there's two, three centimetres of dust on the walls.
Farms are getting bigger and bigger. Livestock buildings are huge and new infrastructure is constantly being added. This is a pig farm. When animal droppings decompose, they give off ammonia, which
quickly pollutes local watercourses and causes excessive algal growth. The gas is also an irritant to humans.
ITV Karin Groenenstein,
Wageningen UR Livestock Research, the Netherlands
In ammonia we have achieved our biggest reductions. We started doing that in the early '90s. We have gone from 300 kilotonnes of ammonia in Dutch emissions to 100 kilotonnes today. That is our biggest success.
This big black box can cut ammonia emissions by a considerable margin. It is called an air washer. The air contained in the livestock building is propelled into this water filter. The results are impressive: the level of ammonia decreases by 85 %, bad smells are reduced by 77 % and fine particles by 75 %.
ITV John Houben,
Director, Inter Continental, Ysselsteyn, the Netherlands
What we want to do in the future is that we want to re-use the air. That means we clean all the air that comes out. The air is conditioned and reintroduced into the stable. The big advantage is that all air emissions are free of viruses and bacteria. So the bird flu, for instance, that can come out, is killed off, just like Q-fever. That is a big advantage for the population. They won't be affected by it.
At the Sterksel experimental farm, they are also thinking ahead to the future. Here, the public authorities, researchers and private partners are currently working on pig manure. Their aim is three-fold: to decrease the emission of pollutants, to improve air quality and subsequently propose commercial solutions for farmers.
ITV Daan Somers,
Manager of the Pigs Innovation Centre, Sterksel, the Netherlands
We’re performing tests with manure pans. They are systems we put at the bottom of the pit. They collect and separate the manure. They can cool the manure, so the ammonia emissions are reduced. In this stable, we’re testing manure belts right now. They’re at the bottom of the pit. They remove the manure before any ammonia emission can take place.
Excess manure is also controlled. Today the truck has come to empty the pig manure tanks at the experimental farm. Each cubic metre of manure to be transported is identified by scanning, sampling and GPS tracing.
ITV Daan Somers
Manager of the Pigs Innovation Centre, Sterksel, the Netherlands
Because of the GPS system people aren't able to just cart manure anywhere and anytime they want. If you do that, you will have ammonia emission where you don't want it to happen. Because of the GPS system, we prevent that from happening.
In the Netherlands, in Italy and throughout the European Union, air quality is a major priority. With these two examples, we’ve seen best practices applied at the local level. Since 1990, emissions of most major pollutants have been significantly reduced as stronger legislation came into force. Yet there is still much to be done through EU legislation. The European Commission is currently finalising a new strategy and new draft laws regarding this issue, which together will bring us a breath of fresh air for 2013 and in the years ahead.