Fine dust levels on the rise

Styrian decision-makers are under pressure to react to figures showing soaring amounts of fine dust in several cities in the province.Latest Styrian Air Quality Report figures show that there were more fine dust particles in the air in Graz than allowed on 25 days so far this year. The provincial capital recorded too high levels on 51 days in 2008 and on 70 days the next year.Austrian law says the level must not be surpassed more than 25 times per year. The report also shows that residents of Knittelfeld and Leibnitz are badly affected by fine dust as well.Local authorities are bracing for fines of hundreds of thousands of Euros due to the increased fine dust figures. European Union (EU) regulations mean the amount of fine dust particles must not be higher than 40 micrograms per cubic metre.Too high amounts of fine dust in the air can lead to lung cancer, cardiac disease and other illnesses. Around 2,400 deaths are linked to effects of fine dust in Austria every year. Studies show that the life expectancy of Graz residents is diminished by 17 months due to the constantly high amounts of the particles.Styrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) Traffic Councillor Gerhard Kurzmann is poised to present a package of measures in an attempt to slash fine dust rates in the province. The councillor’s initiative – set for a launch in May – is expected to focus on making public transport services more attractive so more drivers switch to trams and buses. The provincial government may also subsidise the replacement of old coal-burning systems with eco-friendly alternatives.Opposition politicians in Vienna – where domestic fine dust levels were surpassed 87 times in 2010 – suggested the usage of public transport services should be free of charge on days with increased amounts of the dangerous particles in the air.People’s Party (ÖVP) environment issues spokesman Roman Stiftner, who made the suggestion, accused the city’s coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the Greens of “acting helpless” about the problem.Stiftner also appealed on the city government to set up more charging stations for electric cars (e-cars) and more measures to increase the popularity of car-sharing initiatives.The ÖVP official claimed that the introduction of more 50 kilometres per hour (kph) zones in the city’s outskirts and on roads leading to motorways would not reduce fine dust rates.Major building projects like the construction of Vienna’s new main train station in Favoriten district and the high amount of road grit on Austria’s streets this winter kept fine dust amounts high in the past months.The Austrian Traffic Club (VCÖ) recently said the air quality “worsened dramatically” across Austria last year. “We registered the overall highest amount of fine dust in the air since 2006,” the independent organisation announced.Vienna was branded the capital of fine dust by the organisation, while Graz, Wiener Neudorf and Linz also registered dozens of days on which safe levels of fine dust were surpassed.The VCÖ appealed to political decision-makers to set up measures like city road toll areas. It claimed many cities all over the world succeeded with such initiatives in lowering fine dust figures.Austria’s greenhouse gas emission level is meanwhile expected to soar.Car traffic, industrial production processes and household heating caused an overall carbon dioxide equivalent pollution of 80.1 million tons in 2009. This was a year on year drop of 6.8 million tons, but the amount may soar in the coming years. Many of the country’s industrial branches plan to be more active than ever before as they continue to recover from the credit crunch.Non-government organisation (NGO) Greenpeace Austria pointed out that the 2009 figures mean Austria is “miles away” from meeting the previously agreed Kyoto limit.