American Expert: Air Pollution Shockingly High In Reykjavík - The Reykjavik Grapevine

American Expert: Air Pollution Shockingly High In Reykjavík

Published June 12, 2017

Elías Þórsson
Photos by
Lemúrinn

An American expert in air pollution claims he was incredibly surprised when he measured the levels of air particulate matter pollution in Reykjavík.

Worse than Denver

Dr. Larry G. Anderson, professor emeritus from the University of Colorado Denver, has studied air particulate matter pollution for the past 45 years, and he told RÚV that he was shocked at the high concentration of particulate matter in the air. Using standards used to measure air pollution in Denver, Anderson found that despite the American city having around 22 times the population of Reykjavík, the Icelandic capital actually had higher levels of particulate matter.

“i did not expect a country like Iceland to cross the limits we use in Denver,” he said. “Over the last ten years, we’ve not seen air particulate pollution over those limits. But last year, Reykjavík crossed them 10 to 13 times.”

He made this discovery upon reviewing figures from the Environment Agency of Iceland, which measures particulate matter, nitrous oxide and sulphur levels in the atmosphere.

Mysterious pollution levels

According to Anderson, what makes the high levels of pollution even more surprising compared to Denver is not just the fact that only 128,000 people live in Reykjavík, compared to just under 3 million in Denver, but also that the American city uses fossil fuel for industrial production and heating. But as Icelanders will proudly tell you, the abundance of renewable energy sources means this is not the case in Reykjavík.

“This is very mysterious and needs to be researched further. You only really burn fossil fuel with cars, trucks and busses and nothing else,” said Anderson. “The cause of the pollution must be found and ways to combat it need to be developed. You won’t be able to solve this without getting to the bottom of it first.”

It might seem logical that the widespread use of studded snow tires would be the cause of the high levels, but according to Anderson, mainly fine particles are found in the air in Reykjavík and not the coarse dust particles produced by the tires. The fine particles are more dangerous to humans and, therefore, the need for action is particularly important.

Failing the environment

Earlier in the month, Grapevine reported that Iceland is predicted to miss the goals set by the Paris Agreement, and these new findings don’t bode well for a country that has propagated an image of being environmentally friendly. Maybe we should just follow Trump’s lead and opt out, since we are fucking it up this magnificently.


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