Agis Emmanouil is performing the incredible 2421km Climate Run from Athens to Glasgow in order to raise awareness on the climate crisis. Is there a better and most sustainable way than bringing the message on foot, for 2421 Km?
Yet, Agis is running on roads that pass from some of the most polluted areas of Europe. How healthy is it for him to run for up to 11 hours per day on these roads? How much Air Pollution will he have to go through in order to achieve his goal?
That’s why we decided to measure in real time the Air Pollution along his route, day after day, for the whole time of his run, with the small, portable Plumelabs Flow Air Quality monitor. It has never been done before to measure the Air Pollution on foot in real time over such a long distance. The analysis of the data that the Flow AQ Monitor is sending us is already giving us many interesting insights into the Air of European roads.
Here below is the table with the total statistics of Agis Climate Run, which is updated all the time. For now it includes AQ data from the first two countries that Agis passed through, Greece and Italy.
STATS totals for Agis’ run in Greece, Italy and France
|2||10||20/08||Padova – |
|4||12||22/08||Verona – |
|1||39||18/09||Modane – St Jean de Maurienne||11,2||22,8||29||1||03:49||00:10||30||03:59|
|2||40||19/09||Chambéry – la Tour du Pin||7,1||13,1||57,2||1,5||09:09||00:15||58,7||09:24|
|3||41||20/09||La Tour du Pin – Lyon||4||23,3||27,9||0||04:54||00:00||27,9||04:54|
|6||48||27/09||Tournus – Chalon-sur-Saône||11||7,7||25,7||1,7||04:04||00:15||27,4||04:19|
|8||50||29/09||Dijon- Les Laumes – Alésia||13,8||15||57,2||8,8||08:41||01:20||66||10:01|
|9||52||01/10||Venarey-les-Laumes – Montbard||3,2||7,2||14,7||0||02:10||00:00||14,7||02:10|
|15||63||12/10||Saint-Denis – Creil||15,6||23,7||35,2||8,8||04:08||01:00||44||05:08|
|16||67||16/10||Breteuil – Creil||33,9||14||24||22||03:31||03:05||46||06:36|
|17||68||17/10||Abbeville – Etaples Le Touquet||19,1||25,9||35||19||04:55||02:45||54||07:40|
|18||69||18/10||Amiens – Abbeville||18,1||11,5||31,2||11||04:19||01:34||42,2||05:53|
|19||70||19/10||Etaples Le Touquet – Calais||22,9||3,3||38,7||23,3||05:21||03:40||62||09:01|
The Chart above shows PM2,5 and NO2 pollution averages measured along Agis’ run in Greece, Italy and France.
It looks obvious that both Greece and especially Italy had higher pollution that the WHO recommended levels of 15 μg/m3 for PM2,5 and 25 μg/m3 for NO2. France had a much better Air Quality, near the recommended level for Pm2,5 and below the recommended level for NO2. This is what we were actually expecting to find, because it is known that the Padania Plain in N Italy and the Athens area in Greece are among the most polluted regions of Europe. Agis’ exploit simply confirmed this knowledge by means of daily, step by step AQ measurements. How cool is that? This has never been done before!
What worries me is that this amount of air pollution has actually gone through Agis’ lungs into his body. How good/bad can this be, we can’t say. Maybe all his physical activity has counterbalanced the pollution’s negative effect, maybe not. This uncertainly due to the delayed negative effects of air pollution is exactly the reason why people and authorities don’t pay enough attention to this invisible health threatening enemy, which kills 8 millions of people worldwide each year.
Air Quality insights from Agis’ daily runs so far
- Agis covered in Greece and N Italy a total distance of 783,5 km in 124 hours and 50 minutes. Of these, only half (367,5 km) were run under satisfactory, healthy Air Quality. That’s surely no good news for the health of Agis or of any other Agis that likes to do outdoor sport activities in these regions.
- In Greece, Agis started in Athens with high levels of Air Pollution. Athens is one of the most polluted cities of Europe because of two main problems: a very high vehicle traffic (which consist of over 50% of older, very polluting vehicles that in great part don’t even have a MOT certification), and uncontrolled domestic heating with any kind of wood in very old stoves and fireplaces as well as with oil heaters that are rarely serviced. Both these reasons have to do with a general non-interest in Air Quality of both authorities and citizens in Greece. And of course they have to do also with the 10 years long economic crisis that hit hard the Greek population, who still now can not afford to buy newer cars or heaters. If these two reasons of Air Pollution were addressed properly, the air in the city would improve dramatically. Three more reasons with less long-term impact are industries (not many industries are in the city), African dust that reaches the city during the warmer months and of course the smoke from wildfires, which are fueled by the Climate Crisis and that can make the air in the city intolerable at times. Yet, let’s not forget that so much wood is burnt in fireplaces and wood stoves for more than 5 months in winter, and that the wood smoke smell is intolerable every night. The slower release of wood smoke from the thousands and thousands of the city’s wood stoves over the whole winter, day after day, on the long term is surely more unhealthy than the sudden release of wood smoke from wildfires that can last for a week or so in summer.
- The highest Air Pollution during the Greek run was met by Agis in the industrial areas of Aspropyrgos, west of Athens, and near Korynthos, where big oil refineries pour huge quantities of smoke into the air 24/7.
- As soon as Agis distanced himself from Athens and from the oil refineries near Korynthos, the Air Quality improved to excellent levels. The only exception was when he was close to smaller cities like in Day 3 where the effect of vehicle traffic with older, non catalyzed cars was felt by the AQ Monitor.
- Another situation in which the AQ Monitor picked up a higher air pollution in Greece was when Agis ran on an unpaved, dirt road on Day 3. The Monitor was “fooled” by the dust from the road, but this kind of dust can not be considered as toxic as the chemical dust originating form the combustion of fossil fuels or wood. Same thing happened on a smaller, rural road between Santhia’ and Crescentino in Italy on Day 32.
- It is interesting to note that when Agis was running on busy roads in moments of good, clean Air (like for example on Days 3 to 5 in Greece and on Days 33 and 34 in Italy), the AQ Monitor data showed sudden spikes of high Air Pollution that lasted for only a couple of minutes before returning to good levels. I can only explain this by thinking that a big, heavy lorry (as well as one of those older piece of junk cars in Greece) passed near Agis and left its black exhaust smoke right there to be picked up by the AQ Monitor and Agis’ lungs…
- As soon as Agis arrived to Venezia, his AQ Monitor immediately began showing worrying data. Once again Agis had entered into high Air Pollution territory… The whole Padania Plain, from Venezia to Torino, is a big flat land surrounded by mountains that keep its air from moving around. There is a very high humidity there, and as a result the air feels kind of “thick”, warm and sticky in summer and very chilly in winter especially when there is fog (which is very often..). Air pollution gets caught by the humidity and sticks in the air for long. The region is also the big economic engine of Italy, with thousands of industries of every kind, and has an extensive agriculture. That level of development goes in par with a very heavy vehicle traffic, of course. Add to the recipe also the domestic and industrial heating needs of several millions of inhabitants and you can then understand why such a big cauldron of stale, humid air filled with the pollution coming from millions of people burning fossil fuels and biomass is one of the most polluted places of Europe.
- Looking at the region from a satellite image, we can realize how the Padania Plain is a mosaic of agricultural, industrial and residential areas that are so close to each other.
- The high Air Pollution met by Agis on almost every day in Italy was mostly coming from a very intense vehicle traffic. Agis ran for most of the time on State Roads (Strada Statale). These were often close to the A4 Torino-Venezia freeway, which is one of the busiest axis in Italy, especially in summer when millions of Italians and foreigners move around during their holidays.
- The region of Veneto was the most polluted of the three regions that Agis passed through (Veneto in the E, Lombardia in the centre and Piemonte in the W). Veneto is highly industrialized. Lombardia is very industrialized too, but Agis enjoyed better air there. Piemonte is less industrialized and also less populated.
- Local sources of Air Pollution were identified along Agis’ course in Italy, like we had already seen in Greece before. For example, when Agis was running between Milano and Arluno with very clean air on Day 20, around half way he passed from an industrial area that left its mark on his AQ Monitor. Once the industries were left behind, the AQ became good again. This is a clear example of how Air Pollution is very often a localized problem. With the knowledge we have nowadays about the deleterious effects of Air Pollution on our health, it should not be tolerated anymore to have such a polluting industrial area so close to a residential area. It should be a priority of any local authorities to address and solve the problem in order to protect the local population.
- Between Torino and Crescentino on day 28, but also earlier on in Greece on Days 1 and 2, we realized how NO2 pollution can be seen in areas far away from its source. In fact, it is known that this gas, along with Ozone O3, can travel very far and pollute rural areas and even National Parks (see an article here on Ozone pollution in Californian Parks for example).
- Once Agis reached the Alps after Torino, we were expecting to find better Air Quality. After all, aren’t forests green lungs that recycle and clean up the air? In a way the AQ did improve, but not as much as we thought. Why? Because the Susa valley in which Agis ran is not the typical unspoilt, Alpine valley. In fact, it is a very busy valley that is crossed by thousands and thousands of cars and lorries every day headed from/to the Frejus tunnel that leads to France. Hence, traffic pollution is high in the valley, and the Air Quality is low at times.
14. The bottom line is that wherever we find high vehicle traffic, the Air Quality is negatively affected, be it in a city or in a natural habitat. This seems a banal thing to say, but it is not. We must stop taking the air we breathe for granted, we are being poisoned by our very addiction to cars.
15. Vehicle traffic pollution is making Agis’ Climate Run a more difficult endeavour, and we all should be using his story as a tool to press our governments and local authorities to finally start working hard at reducing the Air Pollution that we have to constantly live in.