The Leopold II tunnel is the most polluted location in Brussels, according to an environmental study to measure air quality in the capital. The tests were carried out on an initiative of the green parties Ecolo and Groen, and involved ordinary people placing readers in 192 locations in the city to measure nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The locations were selected to give a complete picture of the air quality in Brussels, whether areas of heavy traffic or more green areas.
Some areas were selected in particular because of the presence of a school, a crèche or a hospital, where the population is likely to be more vulnerable to air pollution.
In one in five places where measurements were taken, NO2 was above the European limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air. The most polluted spot in Brussels, it will not surprise drivers to learn is inside the Leopold II tunnel under the Basilique of Koekelberg, where the reading was 66.7 micrograms.
The pollution in the tunnel, however, affects not only drivers. “The system of ventilation expels heavily polluted air into the park,” said Groen parliamentarian Annemie Maes, referring to the Parc Elisabeth in front of the Basilique. “There, people go jogging, children play in the playground and families come to have a picnic.”
Long-term exposure to NO2 affects the airways in healthy people, and aggravates the problems of those with existing respiratory complaints such as asthma. Ironically, staying indoors is not a solution: NO2 penetrates the household, and because insulation nowadays tends to be better than before, the pollutant is retained indoors to affect anyone who is housebound, whether by illness or job.
Medical experts recommend reducing the limit to 20 micrograms. “If we take on the limit recommended by cardiologists,” Maes said. “It would have been exceeded at almost all of our measuring locations.”