From fine particles to ammonia: Altroconsumo’s analysis of smog

Air quality in the city is not only an environmental issue but also has important repercussions on the quality of life and health of citizens. Altroconsumo analyzed the main pollutants: from the study “the first thing that emerges is particulate matter, fine dust which, with its microscopic dimensions, allows for deep inhalation into the respiratory tract, causing cardiovascular and respiratory problems. It is actually a mix of dust that It mostly comes from human activities: industrial processes, construction and vehicle traffic.”

Speaking of particulate matter, “the role of black carbon is also important, which is mainly contained in the fine fraction of particulate matter (Pm2.5) and is emitted as a residue of any combustion process. Epidemiological studies provide sufficient evidence of the association between onset of cardiopulmonary pathologies and mortality with exposure to black carbon”. Then there are nitrogen oxides, “whose origin is linked to high temperature combustion, such as that which occurs in car engines, and which can lead to the production of secondary pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, the most feared because it irritates the respiratory system. Nitrogen oxides also contribute to the formation of acid rain and have important consequences on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems”. Finally, “ammonia, a gas with a pungent, irritating and toxic odor, which contributes to the formation of secondary particulate matter and which is generated mainly by agricultural activities, but not only”.

From the Altroconsumo analysis it emerges that in the city there are mainly two sources of pollution: “Traffic and, in winter, also the heating of houses. To date it is estimated that around 3 out of 4 Italians live in a polluted area, in which there ‘is a concentration of fine particles exceeding the limits established for the protection of health. In 2023 there were 58 cities in which the average concentration of fine particles exceeded the reference limit of 10 micrograms per m3, but situations were also recorded worst, in which double the limit was exceeded: in the first months of 2023, Cremona was the worst province, followed by Monza, Milan, Mantua and Padua”.

But what can be done to stem this phenomenon? “The objective is to reduce emissions into the atmosphere and, where it is no longer possible to reduce, apply adaptation and compensation tools – explains Altroconsumo – Pollution reduction actions can be individual or collective: deciding to give up the car private person to travel by public transport is an individual choice, which however can only be taken if public transport is available (which, however, is a political choice). Furthermore, the impact of a single person who chooses to travel by bike it is decidedly lower than that of a city that is redesigned to fit people rather than to fit cars, or than that of an automotive company that decides to convert its production to vehicles with a lower environmental impact”.

If you finally decide to “replace your fireplace with a latest generation pellet stove or with a solar thermal heating system, you would certainly reduce your individual impact; however, the air quality would not improve significantly unless the switch to cleaner energy sources was not done at a community level, for example through the creation of an energy community”.