Tackling Air Quality and Noise Pollution Across European Cities

Both poor air quality and noise pollution pose significant risks to people’s health all around the globe. As well as ramping up efforts to tackle climate change, cities across Europe are also finding innovative ways to address these two silent health hazards. In an article by Euro Cities, the ways in which several EU cities have sought to mitigate the problems caused by air quality and noise pollution are looked at – you can read this article in full here: Air quality and noise pollution are major concerns for European cities.

Central to these cities’ efforts is their signing up to The Green City Accord (GCA), a commitment to becoming cleaner and improving environmental management. Representatives from the host city Valencia, as well as Stara Zagora, Kosice, and Helsinki, met for an online peer-learning visit in early November. During the visit, the cities shared experiences and ideas on addressing both noise and environmental issues.

Ultimately, the aim of the GCA programme is to foster these exchanges and increase the knowledge base of local authorities so as to tackle the issues better. Participants not only were able to collectively drum up solutions but also received advice and feedback on their existing practices and plans.

Milla Susi, a representative from Helsinki, described the visit as pleasant and “…a great window into the different challenges and solutions regarding air quality and noise pollution in quite different European cities”.

Rosia Ryakova from Stara Zagora explains that the visit was “…extremely fruitful and enriching,” going on to explain that by signing the GCA, the municipality has joined a community of cities committed to conducting good policy.

The Head of Sustainable Gardening at Valencia’s City Council, Ignacio Lacomba, agrees with his peers that the workshops held during the two days were productive and “…gave rise to discussion, joint reflection and exchange of experiences; the solutions proposed to improve air quality and noise pollution in terms of pedestrianisation of public space, tactical urban planning, and alternative mobility were found to be suitable and effective”.

Valencia’s efforts

In Valencia, policymakers are busy implementing the Air Quality Improvement Plan, which was developed by experts at the City Council, as well as the Regional Government, and members of the Mediterranean Environmental Studies Centre.

Claiming to be the first true smart city in Spain, Valencia is also pushing for better environmental monitoring. Ana Viciano, the Head of Beaches, Acoustic and Air Quality Service at the City Council, explains that, since 2015, the city has almost doubled the size of its Pollution Monitoring Network, constructing five more measurement stations, bringing the amount distributed across the city to eleven.

As well as implementing a Low Emission Zone, Valencia is also pushing for decarbonization through a transformed urban transport network and a grant from the European Union. The city has now seen four bike lanes added, increased measurement of noise and air pollution, as well as the introduction of 20 new electric passenger buses.

Valencia’s main challenge is obtaining quality data. Ana Viciano explains that acoustic improvements and noise reduction strategies are informed by information, “…the network of both acoustic and environmental sensors will be expanded through various initiatives, including the implementation of Low Emission Zones; involving citizens in the achievement of the objectives”.

Joining the fight: Stara Zagora and Kosice

Slovakia’s Kosice and Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora are taking steps to alleviate the problems of noise and air pollution.

Kosice has recently finalised its Social and Economic Development Masterplan, with seven chapters detailing Green Development. Two of these chapters are dedicated solely for noise pollution and air quality. Miso Hudak, a member of Kosice’s Strategic Development Office of the City, explains that their main goals are to create a monitoring network, increase sustainable mobility, and decrease individual car use. One of Kosice’s most exciting developments is the decarbonisation of US Steel Kosice, the biggest steel plant in central Europe. With help from EU funds, the hope is to replace the existing blast furnaces with electric equivalents.

Bulgaria’s focus is on reducing the amount of particulate matter in the air, with six of the nation’s municipalities working together to tackle the issue. The integrated project includes moving away from wood and coal for domestic heating, with Stara Zagora aiming to closely monitor and limit solid fuel heating through and provide energy aid to encourage the use of alternatives.

Helsinki’s approach

At the meetup in Valencia, Helsinki was keen to show its work in improving air quality around the city. Milla Susi explains that while the city has a relatively good track record in terms of air quality when compared to other major European cities, pollutants can occasionally reach dangerous levels. The main factor affecting the city’s air quality is transport, with traffic being not only the main source of hazardous fine particles and nitrogen oxide but also street dust.

Measurements across the city are undertaken by the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY) using environmental monitoring sensors. The data pulled from these is used to keep citizens abreast of the latest data via a real-time map with an air quality overlay.

Helsinki is also committed to using technology to tackle noise pollution, following a Noise Abatement Action Plan. The plan seeks to prevent the problems that cause noise, using anti-noise coatings and lowering speed limits.

Other/Non-GCA Signatory Cities

In addition to the efforts made by the GCA signatories to reduce noise and air pollution, other EU cities are also using environmental monitoring to great effect. The city of Matosinhos, for example, is now aggressively monitoring both forms of pollution, with five fixed stations sending data to the Northern Regional Coordination and Development Commission. This body then collects this data, collates it, and produces reports used to initiate projects to reduce emissions and noise.

Quieter locations such as Portugal’s Valongo report using environmental monitoring to keep their city clean. Gisela Martins, the Head of Environment Division, reports that, instead, “quality of air concerns us more, especially as air has no administrative boundaries and should be a concern for all of us”. Despite air being their top priority over noise, Valongo monitors both with a pre-emptive plan that aims to deconcentrate traffic and encourage the purchase of hybrid vehicles or the use of public transport. Valongo’s efforts have won the city the 2022 European Green Leaf Award for proactively protecting their natural areas and supporting low-income citizens while the city transitions.

All of the above amount to a heartening start to the new year and we look forward to greater European and global progress in 2022. 

Sonitus Systems offers both the hardware and software for a range of environmental parameters on a continual basis, with real-time information available through our Sonitus Cloud dashboard. For more details on our indoor and outdoor noise and air quality monitoring products and services, please contact the team at Sonitus Systems .