Report: Air Quality Results from my 4000 km Road Trip – I was surprised by the PM2.5 concentrations

In August 2021 (summer in Northern Hemisphere), I travelled from Spain to Greece in order to visit my parents as I hadn’t see them for a long time due to the pandemic. I visited 10 countries and I evaluated the air quality with a portable air quality monitor (Atmotube PRO) but as well as the behavior of the people in these countries as they tend to have different customs when it comes to cooking or transporting around the cities.

This evaluation is very narrow because of the fact that I didn’t stay longer than a day or two in each city so take it with a pinch of salt. Also, the climatological conditions were entangled to the summer month of August and high temperatures were expected in the Mediterranean coastline. Wildfires are more likely to occur during the dry month of August and indeed I witnessed a few in the Balkans.

Transportation

Spain, France, Monaco, and Italy were the countries with the highest traffic. We experienced a high volume of vehicles on the roads and Italy’s highways were by far the busiest with traffic jams of up to 40min. If you look at satellite images in northern Italy, you will see that they suffer from high levels of NO2, a notorious toxic gas emitted by diesel vehicles like trucks and lorries but conventional cars too. Monaco was designed with luxury cars in mind, so I wouldn’t recommend it as a pedestrian-friendly city, sorry.

In Slovenia, the coastal cities weren’t designed to support vehicles as a result people parked their cars outside the cities and they use bicycles or their feet to move around. That was brilliant as the emissions from traffic were non-existent inside the city. Noise-free too. On the contrary, in Cannes, France there wasn’t much motivation to use public transports (mainly electric buses) by the hotel managers. I still remember them laughing when I asked them.

Croatia was very crowded with people from all over the world and there were lots of cars outside the old towns as people desperately tried to park their cars in the already full parking lots. The cities of Split, Zadar, and Dubrovnik were super crowded.

On the one hand, we saw lots of big SUVs in West Europe, and on the other hand, we saw old and less regulated vehicles in East Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, and Greece). The way Balkans and Italians drive their cars is a bit unorthodox too. The way we drive cars has an effect on the emission we emit, the more we accelerate and we decelerate the more pollution we emit.

Cooking

In Spain, France, and Northern Italy I didn’t notice wood ovens but in the Balkans, they use them a lot in city-centric restaurants. Some cities like Sarajevo have huge problems of poor air quality due to the wood ovens because of the geographical location of the city. Mountains and hills were all around and trapped pollution in the middle of the city. You visit a restaurant or a cafeteria for a drink or appetizer and you harm your health without being aware of it.

Habits

Smoking or burning biomass to repel mosquitoes are two of the most annoying habits people had during the trip. People spend a lot of money to buy tobacco, and then they suffer from serious health problems, and while they know it, they brainwash their minds that they are the exception and nothing will happen to them. Tobacco is the same smoke as wildfires. Burning biomass to repel mosquitoes is another crazy habit that I saw in restaurants in Italy. The only thing that it repels is clients. Finally, I saw plenty of agriculture burning in Italy.

According to some openair analysis on R, Saturdays were the worst days as the average concentrations were the highest those days throughout the whole trip. Mondays look good in comparison. Midnights and middays around 11am were the worst hours to be outside too.

Air Quality Evaluation

Would I have been exposed to less PM if I had stayed at home?

According to air quality data that I have gathered with my portable AQ Monitor and the ambient AQ Monitor at MY home, the mean PM2.5 value of my exposure during the trip was 8.5 μg/m3 and compared to 12.4 μg/m3 at home which means I was exposed to less PM during my trip than if I had stayed home.

What was my PM exposure in different countries during my trip (μg/m3)?

  • Spain : Avg 6.7 (Max 34)
  • France : Avg 5.8 (Max 72) Comment: Cigarette smoke
  • Monaco : Avg 4.5 (Max 18) Comment: Light raining all day
  • Italy : Avg 8.3 (Max 63 ) Comment: Cigarette smoke/Traffic
  • Slovenia : Avg 5.4 (Max 19)
  • Croatia : Avg 13.2 (Max 157) Comment: Wood ovens/Wildfires
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina : Avg 12.1 (Max 87) Comment: Wood ovens/Wildfires
  • Montenegro : Avg 14 (Max 71) Comment: Wildfires
  • Albania : Avg 11.2 (Max 59) Comment: Wildfires/Wood ovens
  • Greece : Avg 7.1 (Max 130) Comment: Cigarette smoke

TOP 3 Cities in Mediterranean with the worst Air Quality that I was exposed

  • Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
  • Dubrovnik (Croatia)
  • Shkoder (Albania)

TOP 3 Cities in Mediterranean with the best Air Quality that I was exposed

  • Koper (Slovenia)
  • Monaco City (Monaco) //Saved by the rain
  • Carcassonne (France)

Conclusion

A real example of the AQ during my trip

All in all, even I was surprised from the fact that I was exposed to less PM during my trip and while wildfires were active in the Balkans than staying at home. As it turns out Saharan dust was over my home in mid-August so PM2.5 concentrations were high hence higher average PM concentrations. Also during my trip, I had an air purifier with HEPA H13 filter installed in the vehicles so the concentrations during these ~4000km were really low (~2.5 μg/m3). The portable air quality monitor (Atmotube PRO) definitely helped me to make the right decisions. For example, after visiting museums and archaeological sites in the cities, I used to work out unless the air was unhealthy. When we work out we inhale the same amount of air that a seated person breathes during their entire day, so it is crucial to avoid working out in some cities while wildfires or wood ovens are active to protect your health.

Saharan dust middle August over Spain and my home

They say, there are two sides to every coin. Here are some of the Best and Worst moments during my trip.

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