Increased particulate matter concentrations in Flanders, warns interregional environment body

Increased particulate matter concentrations in Flanders, warns interregional environment body
A farm in Flanders. Photo by Helen Lyons / The Brussels Times.

Belgium’s Interregional Cell for the Environment (IRCEL) reports that over the past 24 hours, the average concentration of particulate matter in Flanders has exceeded its warning threshold.

PM10 and PM2.5 in Flanders have surpassed 50 and 35 micrograms per cubic metre of air respectively.

According to IRCEL’s interactive map, increased concentrations of fine dust in the air are being measured in the monitoring networks of all three of Belgium’s regions, but only in Flanders is it high enough to trigger the warning system so far.

High concentrations due in part to weather conditions, agriculture

The high particulate concentrations arise because the air pollution is poorly diluted by low wind speeds.

The weather conditions (sunny and mild temperatures during the day, with cool nights) combined with the higher ammonia emissions at this time of year due to agricultural activities, cause increased concentrations of ammonium salts in the air. These springtime episodes occur from time to time.

The meteorological conditions will remain unfavourable for several days, with the expectation that the particulate concentrations in Flanders will continue to exceed the warning thresholds for at least 24 hours.

People who are particularly sensitive to air pollution (young children, the elderly, people with heart diseases, etc.) are advised not to engage in any unusual physical activity.

Due to their small size (a diameter of less than one hundredth of a millimetre), the concentrations of fine dust particles indoors are not significantly lower than in the open air, according to IRCEL.

Air pollution in Brussels, as well

Brussels recently mapped its own air pollution focusing on NO2 emissions, which stem largely from vehicle exhaust in the capital due to a high number of auto users.

Their study reported that in 2018, the mean NO2 concentration in Flanders was slightly lower than the mean value in the Brussels Capital Region (22.8 µg m-3 and 24.0 µg m-3 in Flanders and Brussels, respectively).

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But strikingly, maximal NO2 in Flanders was higher than in Brussels (75.3 µg m-3 vs 60.5 µg m-3 in Flanders and Brussels, respectively), while minimal NO2 was lower in Brussels than in Flanders (10.9 µg m-3 in Flanders vs 6.2 µg m-3 in Brussels).

“When comparing the relative exceedance of the EU norm, less values exceeded the EU limit in 2021 in Brussels (1.4%) compared to Flanders in 2018 (2.3%),” researchers found.

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