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Italians return to face masks as air pollution warning hits tourist hotspot

Italy’s Lombardy imposes severe antismog measures to combat a particularly bad period of air pollution

Via AP news wire
Wednesday 21 February 2024 05:37 GMT
A woman wearing a mask walks at Piazza Duomo in Milan on Tuesday
A woman wearing a mask walks at Piazza Duomo in Milan on Tuesday (AFP via Getty Images)

A tourist hotspot in Italy has been forced to impose severe antismog measures to combat air pollution.

The northern Lombardy region imposed the measures across Milan and eight surrounding provinces to combat a particularly bad period of air pollution.

The measures bar heavy motor vehicles from operating during the day and impose limits on heating and industrial agricultural activities in the nine provinces.

A lack of rain and wind has exacerbated air pollution levels in Italy, particularly in the mostly land-locked and industrial northern Po River Valley.

Some residents are wearing face masks outdoors to reduce exposure to the dirty air.

Milan, a city of just over one million people, lies within the densely populated Po Valley, which houses almost one third of Italy’s population.

The valley’s 17 million inhabitants make it one of the most polluted areas in Europe, for which Italy was in 2020 found in breach of EU clear air directives by the EU Court of Justice.

“It stinks! I smell a constant stench of smog, I cough, I feel my throat burning,” said De Luca, who lives in a second floor apartment in Milan‘s eastern Studi district.

Levels of fine particulates and other pollutants in Milan rank among the highest in Europe, data from the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service and Italian environmental lobby Legambiente showed this month.

People walk along a shrouded in mist and smog Naviglio Pavese canal, in Milan (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Parts of the Italian peninsula are frequently hit by periods of bad air quality in winter, thanks to a combination of low rainfall, industrial and vehicle emissions and mountain ranges that trap the smog.

In announcing the restrictions, the regional government cited levels of particulate matter above accepted levels and weather forecasts indicating the smog won’t lift anytime soon.

Italian environmentalist group Citizens for Air said the situation is severe and requires strict measures to limit vehicular, heating and farming pollution.

A man walks on a bridge shrouded in mist and smog, at the Naviglio Pavese canal in Milan, Italy on Monday (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“Current pollution thresholds are fully unsatisfactory to protect our health, this is what the World Health Organization says,” said said Anna Gerometta, head of Italy Citizens for Air campaign.

The Italian government recently approved a decree to allow several northern Italian regions, among the most polluted in the country, to postpone a ban on diesel cars on the grounds that consumers and businesses couldn’t transition so quickly to low-emission or zero-transmission cars.

In imposing the antismog measures Tuesday, Lombardy officials nevertheless insisted the situation overall was improving on the basis of annual data.

Lombardy’s assessor for environment and climate, Giorgio Maione, said particulate matter levels had fallen over 20 years and that investments in sustainable energy renovations over the past five years have amounted to 19 billion euros.

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