MILAN, ITALY – Sunday 9 October was a car-free day in Milan, designed to get the pollution level, one of Europe’s highest, down to legally acceptable levels. Seventy firefighters and extra police officers ensured that from 08:00 to 18:00 virtually no cars were driven in the city. The city’s safety commissioner said they were also checking cars with stickers for the handicapped, which could be driven, to catch cheaters, according to Corriere della sera newspaper.
The fine is euros 155 for driving on a car-free Sunday.
The ban followed 10 days of restrictions on certain categories of vehicles that were labelled polluters. The system kicks in when the pollution level rises above 50 micrograms of particulates per m3 of air over 12 days
Detractors, including some environmental groups, say the day off does little to bring down levels. Corriere della sera cites one critic who notes that the level has dropped to within legal limits after only on six of the 15 car-free Sundays in recent years, and that the city should invest more in anti-pollution measures for its public transport system.
Milan’s citizens were encouraged to take advantage of free entry Sunday to the city’s swimming pools and discounted entries for several museums, using the additional buses and subway trains that were put on for the day.
The northern Italian city has one of the highest car ownership ratios in the world and ranks as one of Europe’s most polluted cities for both the extent to which pollution rises above the European Union PM10 (particulates) limit of 50 micrograms per m3, and the duration. An Ecopass system to reduce car traffic went into effect in 2008, at which point 98,000 cars reportedly entered the city every day. The number of cars affected by Sunday’s ban three years later was 120,000, according to city officials.
The most recent comparative figures, from the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva in late September, show Milan, Torino and Naples sharing the top spot, with 2008 annual PM10 figures of 44 or 45 on average. The WHO published its new clean air guidelines and database covering more than 1,000 cities in 91 countries, noting:
“PM10 particles, which are particles of 10 micrometers or less, which can penetrate into the lungs and may enter the bloodstream, can cause heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, and acute lower respiratory infections. The WHO air quality guidelines for PM10 is 20 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) as an annual average, but the data released today shows that average PM10 in some cities has reached up to 300 µg/m3.”
Bern, Geneva and Zurich showed annual averages of 21 to 24, while Rome was 35 and Paris 38, according to WHO figures.