Air pollution in Madrid, challenges and solutions in the fight for environmental health

December 27, 2023
La contaminación del aire en Madrid es un problema que la capital española comparte con múltiples ciudades en todo el mundo. ¿Cómo abordarlo?

Table of contents

Air pollution in Madrid is a problem shared by almost all urban areas. This issue tends to generate rivers of ink and multiple political debates. But there is one undeniable truth regarding air quality: when minimum standards are not met, the consequences impact both the health of citizens and ecosystems.

 

Types of Pollution in Madrid

Air pollution attracts the majority of media attention in urban areas.

But cities also experience other types of pollution that do not receive the same attention and are equally harmful.

Noise pollution

Noise pollution, although often unnoticed, is a major problem. In the case of Madrid, Europe’s 4th noisiest city, more than 300,000 people are exposed to harmful levels of noise pollution at night.

The main source of noise emissions is traffic. In fact, living, for example, next to busy areas has an impact on mental and physical health.

Light pollution

We understand light pollution to be that generated by lighting systems which, either due to excess or inappropriate design, etc., alter the level of nighttime darkness.

It may seem a lesser evil. However, the truth is that light pollution has multiple effects on biodiversity and human health.

In the case of Madrid, although there have been some improvements as a result of the change to public lighting in 2014, the Spanish capital is still, in this respect, the most polluted city in the country.

Air pollution

Undoubtedly, air pollution is one of the main challenges facing the city. Spain was found guilty at the end of 2022 of repeated breaches of environmental regulations in Madrid and Barcelona.

Madrid’s high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5) make it one of the European cities with the highest mortality rates attributable to air pollution.

 

Air pollution in Madrid

Pollution in Madrid today

There is no doubt that advances in technology make it easier to report on issues such as air quality. There are now multiple tools available to provide the population with real-time information on air pollution levels in Madrid.

One of the sources of information that can be consulted in this regard is the website created by Madrid City Council, which contains data from the city’s 24 air quality stations.

The variables gathered on this website include:

  • Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5)
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
  • Ozone (O3)

Some of the stations also measure carbon monoxide (CO), benzene (BE) and toluene (TO).

The capital also has a mobile app, Aire de Madrid, available for both Android and Apple, and an account on X (formerly known as Twitter) where regular updates are posted.

 

Pollution in Madrid by zones

For air quality purposes, Madrid differentiates 5 specific areas, as shown in the attached map.

 

 

Before detailing pollution levels in each zone, it is useful to define the types of stations in each area:

  • Traffic: these facilities are located in areas heavily influenced by street or road traffic.
  • Urban background: these are located within urban areas, recording the levels of exposure experienced by citizens.
  • Suburban: located on the outskirts of the city, where ozone concentrations are higher. Ozone is a secondary pollutant that is generated through a photochemical reaction involving nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

 

Air quality inside the M30 (Zone 1)

This area has 7 traffic stations and 3 background stations.

The main problem in this area, and therefore in the whole city, is the level of nitrogen dioxide, which far exceeds the values recommended by the WHO and the new limiting value that will be included in the new European Directive on air quality.

Air quality in the south-east (Zone 2)

Zone 2 has 1 traffic station and 2 background stations. In addition to nitrogen dioxide, the pollutants causing the most problems in this area are particulate matter PM10. This pollutant is particularly high in the case of the Moratalaz and Vallecas stations.

Air quality in the north-east (Zone 3)

North-east Madrid has 5 background stations and 1 suburban station.

In this area, and more specifically in the Urb. Embajada station, there are some of the highest PM10 values in the whole city.

Air quality in the north-west (Zone 4)

This area has 2 suburban stations.

It is the area with the lowest concentrations of nitrogen dioxide. But it is the one with the greatest ozone pollution problems.

Air quality in the south-west (Zone 5)

The south-west of the capital has one traffic station and two underground stations.

The south-west of the capital is the area with the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide, with annual average values close to the legal limiting value currently in force within the EU.

 

Why is there so much pollution in Madrid?

The main reason for the high pollution levels in the city is the traffic density on its main streets and access roads.

However, meteorology also influences the atmosphere’s ability to disperse pollutants. Thus, for example, the atmospheric stability generated by anticyclones favours the process of thermal inversion, particularly during the winter months, which significantly raises pollution levels.

In summer, by contrast, the absence of rain or wind often leads to ozone pollution episodes such as the one in June 2023, considered one of the worst since 2015.

 

Effects of pollution in Madrid

Atmospheric pollution in Madrid leads to multiple problems, both for the natural environment in the capital and for the city’s heritage and buildings.

However, one of the most serious consequences of pollution in Madrid is the negative effects on health. According to the Carlos III Institute, which has been analysing the effects of pollution on human health for years, it is estimated that Madrid’s poor air quality results in some 14,000 hospital admissions per year.

 

Effects of pollution in Madrid

Solutions to pollution in Madrid

Solving the air pollution problem in Madrid depends not on implementing one specific measure, but on a series of actions.

Firstly, and bearing in mind that traffic is the main source of pollutant gas and particle emissions, it is essential to employ a more rational use of private vehicles. Car sharing, avoiding using cars for short journeys or driving correctly, avoiding sudden acceleration or braking, help to reduce pollution levels.

Another proven measure to improve air quality is to increase tree cover and green areas in general, which is essential to reduce the impact of pollution on human health.

It may also be desirable to increase the coverage of the measurement network, particularly in the most deprived areas, by combining fixed reference stations and sensor-based stations, such as those provided by Kunak. Our Kunak AIR Pro and Lite feature guaranteed quality, having recently been recognised by the AIRLAB International Microsensors Challenge as the most accurate multi-pollutant sensors on the market.

 

Success stories

The ability of Kunak’s solutions to meet the needs of real-time air quality monitoring has made us one of the benchmarks for dozens of cities seeking to tackle the problems caused by air pollution.

Some of the success stories where our real-time pollution measurement systems have made a difference include: