Winter Smog

Written by Ilke
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Each time the beautiful weather persists in winter time you can expect smog. Especially when the wind drops…. It is a very unfortunate and worrisome situation. The causes are to be found in emissions from (diesel) cars, heating from buildings and pollution from industries. The Eastern wind blowing pollution from the German industrial Ruhr area towards Belgium is particularly bad news.

Photo by Abdou.W on flickr!Because of the lack of movement of air and temperature (inversion), the polluted air is not diluted and gets trapped in a cold layer of air just above the ground. Everyone of us, but especially children and elderly people, are warned to avoid physical exercise (including jogging) during smog alarm. This is mainly because of the particulate matter concentrations (PM10 and PM2.5) hanging in the air. Many do not know these concentrations of particles are equally high inside as outside. This 'fine dust' can penetrate deep into the lungs (the PM2.5 is smaller than the PM10 and therefore even more harmful). Immediate symptoms due to inhaling these particles are: being short of breath, respiration diseases like bronchitis, and more problems for people suffering from asthma or chronic respiratory illnesses.

What do the Belgian authorities do?

The numerous Belgian governments have agreed to impose nationwide smog alarm measures such as maximum speeds of 90 km/h on motorways during the peak days of pollution. These measures are announced in the media and shown on traffic signs. In addition, Brussels has a new three-phase plan in case of pollution:

Phase I - speed limits as mentioned above and 50km/h on Brussels roads

Phase II - restrictions on cars in town (alternated driving ban on even and uneven number plates) and free public transport

Phase III - a total ban of cars.

More info can be found on the website of the Brussels Environmental Institute or you can visit the dedicated pollution peak website.

What can you do?

Here is the good news: everyone of us can do something! Implementing the suggestions mentioned below will help during peaks of pollution, but implementing them all year round would help to avoid them all together! There are three main areas where you as an individual can make a difference:

  1. Avoid using your car
    • Introduce a Friday bike day, Monday tram day and/or Wednesday walk day (for maps and itineraries see our Public Transport section). It will give you some free exercise, maybe you will even manage to read your newspaper on the bus/tram and you might (re)discover your neighborhood.
    • You can buy yourself a foldable bike to hop on the bus/tram.
    • In Brussels you can even exchange your number plate for a free public transport pass and a Cambio car sharing membership
  2. If you need to use the car try the following
    • Learn how to eco-drive (see our eco-drive article)
    • Consider buying an electrical car to load at your home with green energy (check here how to change to a green energy supplier)
    • Consider car-sharing with colleagues, friends, parents or neighbors or try carpooling. It's also a good way to exercise your Dutch or French and meet some locals.
    • Install a filter to clean the polluting emissions of your diesel car and receive a subsidy (e.g. as from end of January 2009 subsidies up to 400 euro from the Flemish Government).
  3. Use less energy
    • Have your heating system checked at least once a year
    • Reduce the average temperature in your house by one or two degrees and add a layer of clothes during the day and reduce the temperature each night and when you leave the house.
    • Check the insulation in your house.
    • Consider coming to one of the energy challenge sessions organized by Sunbeams to get very useful tips without big investments (see our calendar)
  4. Become informed about daily pollution measurements and smog alarm
    • For a detailed and daily update on the harmful particulate matter concentrations measured at different places in Belgium we refer you to the IRCELINE website. The site also contains details on air quality and all polluting components.
    • For a more general and quick daily glance at the air quality in Brussels only, you can check the 'pollumeter' on the main page of the Brussels Environmental Institute website, or for more details go to You can also ask for an online smog warning by email which you will receive every time pollution is expected to be high in Belgium. Every time winter smog is expected, you will get an e-mail with details, forecasts and advice once you are on their mailing list: just send an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Whilst the emails wil only be in Dutch or French, the maps included are quite straight forward.

This articles was originally published in the January 2009 edition of the Sunbemas Newsletter.

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