Barcelona is taking a radical approach to fighting air pollution by banning cars that are more than 20 years old from driving on weekdays. The city is hoping the move will reduce traffic emissions by 30 percent over the course of 15 years.
The poor air quality in Barcelona is said to be behind around 3,500 premature deaths there every year, prompting the city’s Deputy Mayor for the Environment, Urban Planning and Transport, Janet Sanz, to label air pollution “a health problem of the first order.”
The agreement prohibits the use of private cars that were registered before January 1997 and vans that were registered prior to October 1994 on work days, and it will go into effect on January 1, 2019. Starting December 1, however, these cars will be banned from driving during high-pollution periods.
The measure is a joint initiative between the Catalan government and Barcelona city council, and it will be in effect in Barcelona as well as 39 municipalities nearby. The city council stated that it is hoping to lower emissions by 10 percent throughout the next five years as they work toward reaching the World Health Organization’s recommended levels as well as those set by the EU.
It is believed that around 106,000 cars and 22,000 vans in the area will be effected, which represent 7 and 16 percent of the area’s total vehicles in each category respectively. The city plans to offer those who must give up their vehicles free public transportation.
Air pollution linked to health problems, deaths
Barcelona is hardly the first city to adopt such a measure; they join cities such as Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City in instituting bans of diesel cars and vans. These governments are being surprisingly proactive when it comes to protecting the health of their population. A report by the World Health Organization revealed that air pollution causes the deaths of 7 million people per year, with one in eight global deaths being caused by poor-quality air. This means it is responsible for more deaths than diabetes, AIDS, and car accidents combined.
Air pollution is linked to a number of health problems, and not all of them are respiratory. For example, a study from Ohio State University found that being exposed to air pollution over the long term can cause negative changes in the brain that are associated with memory and learning problems as well as depression.
Other studies have discovered that fine air particulate matter can lead to widespread inflammation throughout the body, thereby raising people’s risk of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
These problems can start in the womb, with a study carried out by Columbia University in conjunction with Chongqing Medical University finding that every child born to a mother who was exposed to air pollution during pregnancy was born without a vital protein responsible for the proper neurological development.
Meanwhile, a study in PLOS Medicine found that children who go to school in areas with high levels of air pollution caused by traffic could experience lower levels of cognitive development. This study looked at nearly 3,000 children aged seven to ten in Barcelona. Researchers compared their cognitive development in three areas: attentiveness, working memory, and superior working memory. They found that those who went to school in areas with high traffic-related pollution noted significantly smaller increases in these cognitive measurements over the course of a year than those who attended school in areas with lower levels of pollution.
With around 53,000 premature deaths in the U.S. being blamed on road transportation emissions each year, one can only hope that new measures like the ones in Barcelona will be put in place here to help save lives and keep our air clean.