Air pollution - State and impacts (Iceland)

SOER 2010 Common environmental theme (Deprecated) expired
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SOER Common environmental theme from Iceland
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 21 Mar 2015

In general, air quality is good in Iceland and the main concern is particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and lately H2S. The country is sparsely populated. In January 2009, the number of inhabitants was 319 000, and the area is 103 000 km2. The only real urban area is the Reykjavík area where 198 000 live in an area of about 80 km2. Consequently, the only place where typical urban pollution is to be found is in the Reykjavík area.

 

The main source of PM pollution is traffic and especially the use of studded tyres in winter time. The annual mean value during the last years in the Reykjavik area is around 20 µg/m3 (Figure 1) but individual one-hour peaks can reach several hundred during winter rush hours. The biggest town outside the Reykjavík area, Akureyri, has a population of about 17 000. Akureyri and many other smaller villages at the seaside are located in narrow fjords surrounded by high mountains and in calm weather, levels of PM10 from traffic can become quite high. In smaller villages in the countryside, air quality is generally good but gravel roads and the use of sand to prevent icy road conditions can cause considerable PM peaks in these areas.

On the south coast of Iceland and in the north-east part of the highlands are large sandy areas. In strong dry winds, clouds of dust can be blown into urban areas often resulting in very high peaks of PM10. This can happen several times a year but mainly in spring.

NO2 hardly ever reaches the EU health limit value for one hour which is 200 µg/m3 and only a few times a year over the Icelandic limit value for one hour which is 110 µg/m3. The annual mean for NO2 in Reykjavík in recent years has been around 20 and 25 µg/m3 (Figure 3).

 

Concentration of ozone is usually low and hardly ever reaches the information threshold which is 180 µg/m3 for one hour.

SO2 pollution is of little concern, the annual mean during the last ten years has been under 5 µg/m3 (Figure 4).

The concentration of H2S which has increased significantly in the Reykjavík area after installation of geothermal power plants close to the city is of concern. The highest 24-hour value so far is 170 µg/m3 which is over the 150 µg/m3 WHO guidelines for 24 hours. Hydrogen sulfide can affect people’s health and it can cause corrosion to electronic goods. There are already indications that there is an increase in damage of electronic equipment in the capital area due to hydrogen sulfide.

Sulfur and nitrogen deposition is low in Iceland and transboundary pollution is the dominant source of that deposition in Iceland (1). Icelandic soil is based on basalt with high weathering rate, which gives high critical loads in all areas and acid deposition never exceeds critical load.

 

Figure 1. Temporal trend in air pollution in Reykjavík for particulate matter (PM10, in µg/m3). Yearly average.

Figure 1. Temporal trend in air pollution in Reykjavík for particulate matter (PM10, in µg/m3). Yearly average.

 

Figure 2. Temporal trend in number of days exceeding EU´s daily limit value for particulate matter (PM10) of 50 µg/m3

Figure 2. temporal trend in number of days exceeding EU´s daily limit value for particulate matter (PM10) of 50 µg/m3.

 

Figure 3. Temporal trend in air pollution in Reykjavík for NO2 (Annual mean in µg/m3)

Figure 3. Temporal trend in air pollution in Reykjavík for NO2 (Annual mean in µg/m3).

 

Figure 4. Temporal trend in air pollution in Reykjavik for SO2 (annual mean in µg/m3). EU limit value for the protection of Ecosystems (20 µg/m3) shown (orange line)

Figure 4. Temporal trend in air pollution in Reykjavik for SO2 (annual mean in µg/m3). EU limit value for the protection of Ecosystems (20 µg/m3) shown (orange line)

References

(1) Klein,H.,Benedictow., Fagerli,H. (2007) Transboundary air pollution by main pollutants (S, N, O3) and PM, Iceland. Norwegion Meteorological Instiute. ISSN 1890-0003.

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