The Smoky City: Air Pollution in Reykjavík Soars

The Smoky City: Air Pollution in Reykjavík Soars

Gabriel Dunsmith
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Published March 8, 2017

Early risers may have noticed that Reykjavík looks a little more sulphuric than normal recently. Yesterday morning, as city-dwellers rushed to work, smog blanketed the capital in a yellowish film.

Reykjavík—whose name means “Bay of Smokes” in Icelandic, reportedly because the first Viking settlers saw steam from geothermal vents when they first landed in Iceland—is now living up to its name in a new way.

“The pollution comes from traffic. The reason we can see it so clearly is the weather—there have been many days in a row with almost no wind,” said Svava S. Steinarsdóttir, health officer at the Reykjavík Health Board (pictured above).

“The pollution does not get [dispersed] as it usually [does]; it gathers on the horizon and you see this yellowish tint,” she continued. “It’s been rather high for the past week or so.”

Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) along Grensásvegur in the eastern part of the city surged to 122 grams per cubic metre (g/m3) yesterday, according to Reykjavík air monitoring data. Any measurement above 100 is enough to change local air quality designations from “good” to “moderate.” Such a designation means that individuals with sensitive health issues—such as asthma—can be affected.

NO2 is a prominent air pollutant in urban areas and is linked to respiratory difficulties, but levels were not high enough to breach the city’s pollution limits.

“If we think it’s going to be a health concern, then the public health authority will issue a warning,” said Svava. “[Smog] is usually tied to the morning traffic and afternoon traffic.”

Those individuals desiring a breath of clean air may have to wait for the winds to pick back up—or for Reykjavik to hop on the electric car bandwagon.

In the meantime, live pollution levels in Reykjavík are available at http://testapi.rvk.is/#/stodvar.


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