Italy is officially known as the Italian Republic and is located in south-central Europe, but considered to be in Western Europe. It covers an area of 301,340 square kilometres and had a population of over 60 million in 2020. As such it is considered to be the third most populous state in the European Union.
During 2019, according to figures published by IQAir.com, the average level of air pollution in Italy was 61 US AQI which placed it in the “Moderate “class and ranked it in position 59 out of a total of 98 countries. The concentration of the pollutant PM2.5 was 17.09 µg/m³ in 2019 and 14.95 µg/m³ the year earlier. This “Moderate” classification follows the figures suggested by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
After a phase of rapid industrial growth, Italy took a long time before it began to come to terms with the effects caused by such a surge in industrial activity. Air pollution, however, remains a problem especially in the north where a lot of heavy industries are situated. During the 1990s Italy held the tenth position as the country which produced the most carbon dioxide (CO2). Heavy traffic and congestion in the large metropolitan areas continue to be a main source of pollution even though smog levels have fallen since the 70s and 80s. Two of the larger northern cities such as Milan and Turin have some of the worst air pollution in all of Europe and in December 2017 introduced traffic restrictions in order to try to improve the quality of the air. As early as 2011, officials realised that pollution, in general, was reaching critical levels and that the problem needed addressing.
In 2018 air quality levels were reaching a “red” alert status. It is the sharp rise in the concentrations of the microscopic particulate matter PM2.5 which is most troublesome as it causes most breathing and heart problems and is attributed with over 9 per cent of deaths of Italians over the age of 30 years.
The EU's long-term goal is to achieve levels of air quality that do not lead to unacceptable consequences or risks to human health or the environment. The EU tackles the problem in different ways to reduce exposure to air pollution: through legislation, cooperation with sectors responsible for air pollution as well as with international, national and regional authorities and through research. EU policies aim to reduce exposure to air pollution by reducing emissions and setting limits and attainable targets for air quality. At the end of 2013, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a “Clean Air” package, which included new measures to reduce air pollution.
Logistics has a devastating impact on air quality. Another solution is to make transportation greener, especially for the delivery because air pollution is an unintended consequence of the increase in online shopping, but zero-emission vehicles would be an answer to the problem. Most deliveries are made by diesel trucks which pump dangerous air pollutants into the air we breathe and the public notices. While more action is needed, we are seeing some encouraging moves in terms of real change and some companies are actually investing in solutions. Delivery companies need to invest in electric vehicles for delivery.
In the field of air pollution, there are electric motorcycles, a solar-powered shuttle and soap derived from vegetable matter. There is also a ground-level air purification system developed in Italy, Air Pollution Abatement (Apa), which controls air quality in industrial sites, workplaces, urban spaces, commercial and residential areas. Apa works as an intelligent multiservice platform that integrates intelligent environmental sensor monitoring system, Wifi, IoT, Ai solutions and provides cloud-based real-time data.
It is necessary to encourage the use of electric, hybrid and gas (LPG) cars and to take measures to disadvantage or regulate the circulation of petrol and diesel cars. The current rules and policies on the standards to be refined to combat air pollution must be improved and must also pursue medium and long-term objectives.
Air pollution occurs when any harmful gas, dust or smoke enters the atmosphere and makes it difficult for plants, animals and humans to survive as the air has become toxic. Most air pollution results from burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas to produce energy. Biomass combustion for heating, emissions from hazardous pollutants from industries and factories as well as from incinerators and refineries and various agricultural activities all can contribute to poor air quality.
Even with an annual reduction of highly polluting cars and total emissions, private urban road transport remains one of the main sources of pollution, also due to the incentives for dieselisation. Almost two-thirds of people travel over distances up to 10 km, the average size of an urban centre in Italy, while more than 9 out of 10 people travel over distances of less than 50 km.
The result of this is that road transport causes 16 per cent of total emissions of PM2.5, 66 per cent of nitrogen oxide (NO) emissions, 18 per cent of sulphur oxides (SO) and 20per cent of NMVOCs (mainly benzene).
Traditional technologies (wood-burning fireplaces and stoves) are responsible for the majority of particulate emissions in the sector, compared to 9 per cent of emissions attributable to the most advanced technologies such as pellet stoves, closed fireplaces and self-refilling stoves. Out of the total polluting emissions in the city, the domestic heating sector produces 68 per cent of all PM2.5 that our lungs breathe.
Contrary to what one might think, the industrial sector in Italy is the one that over the years has most significantly reduced the production and emission of pollutants into the atmosphere.
A positive, continuous trend due to macroeconomic factors (relocation, closure of old factories, automation), to stricter regulations but also to green choices made by the sector with a view to energy efficiency, environmental sustainability and, why not, savings.
Unfortunately in some sectors, such as the steel industry, chemicals and energy production, the change is more onerous: for this reason, there are urban areas throughout Italy that still experience the drama of precarious health.
Contrary to what one might expect, the use of wood biomass for heating is what causes such a massive presence of particulates in the air. National guidelines must therefore be adopted on the use of biomass for domestic heating and the technology to be adopted, favouring the spread of high efficiency and low (or zero) emissions technologies.
In Italy, PM2.5 has gone from an average of 19.3 µg/m³ to 19.4 µg/m³ in recent years, and more and more regions are experiencing very high levels of pollution. The air quality index monitoring site map, which conveys the air quality values published and validated by the Regional Agencies for Environmental Protection (ARPA), shows very bad levels in urban areas such as those of Milan, Turin, Genoa, Perugia, Spoleto, Rieti and Rome.
The future could possibly lie in sharing mobility services such as bike-sharing and carpooling are now a reality in many cities thanks to the evolution of IT and connection.
The promotion of alternative mobility modes can greatly reduce the harmful effects of air pollution. Many cities are trying to rely less on cars as a means of transportation and make the cities more accessible for bicycles by introducing new cycle paths and invest in more public transportation, especially electric vehicles.
The goal is to reduce the number of cars to less than 500 per thousand inhabitants. By changing our model of trips in the city, it will not be based on self-owned, but on sharing mobility services, understood both as a traditional public transport service, as well as bike-sharing.
Carbon monoxide (CO) and lead (Pb) suspended in the air can contribute to ill effects for tourists. Headaches and breathing problems are common after a day of sightseeing if you're prone to pollution-related sickness or have pre-existing respiratory problems.
The main air pollutants include particulate matter, followed by carbon (C), sulphur oxides (SO), nitrogen oxides (NO), ammonia (NH3), carbon monoxide (CO) and methane (CH4). One of the indicators used by the European Environment Agency measures the concentration of particulate matter in urban areas. The agency considers large particulates (PM10 or <10 µg/m³) that can be transported deep into the lungs, where they can cause inflammation or exacerbate the conditions of people suffering from pre-existing heart and respiratory diseases. Among these, the sub-category of fine particulates (PM2.5 or <2.5 µg/m³) are those whose harmful effects on health are even more serious as they can be drawn more deeply into the lungs and can therefore be more toxic.
According to the World Health Organisation, exposure to air pollution causes 4.2 million deaths worldwide, and cause at least 600,000 children to suffer from acute respiratory infections, caused by toxic air. There are nearly 500,000 premature deaths in Europe every year. Exposure to carcinogenic particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3) cost the lives of 76,200 people in Italy in just one year, reveals the European Environment Agency.
Air pollution, which generally is identified as "smog" is a growing problem, which causes damage to human health, even causing dangerous diseases. Technology and research have been mobilized for some time and today there are more and more interesting and effective solutions, even in the architectural field.
Before talking about some smog-eating products used in architecture, it is advisable to mention the vegetation, an excellent solution to be completely integrated with the building that houses it. Green roofs and facades contribute in a natural way to the reduction of air pollution. The “Bosco Verticale” in Milan, designed by Stefano Boeri Architetti, is the first example of an urban vertical forest, with about 21,000 plants that absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
In 2014 a particular type of photocatalytic cement was created which is, in fact, a smog eater. The material, invented by Luigi Cassar and called Tx Active, thanks to the photocatalysis process manages to reduce the quantity of nitrogen oxide (NO) present in the air.
Biodynamic cement is made up mostly of recycled materials and the laying of 1,000 square meters of the product corresponds to the planting of 80 trees or - alternatively - to eliminate the pollution produced by 30 vehicles.
The first hypotheses and ideas on the possibility of making paints and paints that are friendly to the fight against atmospheric pollution date back to about ten years ago and today, finally, this type of product is mature and used in different countries, even in a very original and interesting way.
In Rome, the largest mural in Europe with smog-eating paint was recently created, 1000 square meters corresponding to the effects produced by 30 trees. The artist is Italian and under the pseudonym of Lena Cruz has already done similar works in other cities, such as New York. This smog-eating paint, an all-Italian invention called Airlite, is exposed to sunlight and is able to eliminate various pollutants that are dangerous for the environment and for humans, such as nitrogen (N) and sulphur oxides (SO) even more than 50 per cent of their concentration. In addition to the reduction of pollutants, the dust and bacteria present on the treated surface are eliminated, thanks to surface oxidation and its alkalinity. In essence, a real protective film is created for the building.
The choice of the roof covering depends on factors such as climate, aesthetics or the functions it must perform. Among the functions recently it was thought to add that of reducing air pollution. There are several studies and innovations in this field, which have led to the diffusion of particular coatings to be applied to the tiles, whose task is to transform polluting components such as nitrogen oxides into inorganic salts, thanks to photocatalysis. The tile remains exactly as we know it, but a catalyst is applied to the surface: titanium dioxide.