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Transport how to make simple changes towards an eco-friendly lifestyle? Have you wondered where to buy your organic food and goods locally? Or how to be more energy efficient? Do you know what is recyclable in Belgium? We do - or we know someone who does! This site is intended to be an information rescource and focal point for ecologically minded people living in and around Brussels. Please revisit the site often, because we update it on a regular basis. Mon, 24 Apr 2017 19:07:57 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb Car-Less For a Day Car-Less For a Day

For those of us who live along Brussels' busy streets and its neighboring cities, Sunday, 18 September, began in a rather unusual way. Rather than waking to honking car horns or halting brakes, Brussels residents were greeted with quiet. If there was any noise to be heard, it was not from the typical cacophony of screeching engines and rattling old mufflers, but from the joyous notes of laughter shared by cycling families.

The reason for this unusually quiet morning? the 11th annual Car-Free Sunday in Brussels. Between the hours of 9:00 and 19:00, all engine traffic was brought to a halt (with the exception of public transportation, which was free for the day!) and every major roadway in Brussels was closed. Instead of grabbing their car keys, Brussels residents snapped on their helmets for a day on the town. People of all ages were out and about, partaking in the various festivities throughout the city and filling the streets with exhaust-free energy. Cyclists certainly capitalized on the opportunity to own the road, bringing Avenue Louise to maximum capacity with their two-wheeled vehicles. Indeed, Sunday, the 18th of September, proved to be a success!

In holding its Car-Free Day (CFD), Brussels joined a network of cities around the world, that also designate one day in a year to pollution-free travel. Starting in Bogota, Colombia, CFDs are meant to encourage the reduction of environmental emissions, foster the development of closer communities, where jobs and shops are within walking distance, and get citizens out on their feet (or bikes!). While planners realize that only one CFD day a year will not make much of a dent in the environment's bill of health, they do hope that it will create awareness about the benefits of living in a city with less car traffic.

For European cities, CFDs are part of the European Mobility Week campaign. This campaign aims to fight atmospheric and noise pollution, but it also hopes to contribute to the improvement of the quality of urban life. Car-Free Days are supposed to function as massive experiments that tempt city dwellers into considering what their locality would be like with fewer cars on the road. It also gives city planners a unique opportunity to test out their new transportation ideas and present them to citizens.

While Brussels residents seem to love CFDs, based on the high levels of participation, the effects of this day do not seem to last longer than 24 hours. Despite holding CFDs since 2000, the city still has seen limited progress in reducing carbon emissions and was given an F-grade in reducing 'soot emissions' this year. Additionally, TomTom, your friendly navigation device, has dubbed Brussels the most congested European city in 2011, due to its numerous blockages.

Clearly, there is a need for more commitment from the average Brussels resident to make this once-a-year event an everyday reality. We all need to show our support for a less congested city, by individually rethinking our transportation choices. While undoubtedly, there are times when we all say 'it is just so much more convenient to drive', this mentality quickly vanishes when we are locked in traffic and a cyclist goes whizzing by, sure to make it home in time for dinner. Also, this cyclist is getting exercise and spending zero Euros on daily commute (besides on the odd power bar), what about us? So, is it really so convenient to drive? From personal experience, having decided not to use a car for the past year, I must say it has been a lot less stressful to rely on public transportation than my own driving abilities.

This article was originally published in the October 2011 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

Articles Wed, 05 Oct 2011 08:11:04 +0000
Explore La Ville de Bruxelles with Villo! Explore La Ville de Bruxelles with Villo!

"Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike."

Do you know who said this line? John F. Kennedy did. You, too, can enjoy this simple pleasure without even owning a bike. For a few years now, bicycle sharing schemes are popping up like mushrooms: more than 200 all over the world, according to the New Zealand Herald. Their aim is to make bicycling available for the masses at a reasonable price. This is intended as a contribution to "soft mobility" and as a complement to public transport. You can just go to one of the stations of the network and grab a bike whenever you need one. You pay for the time you use the bike and you don't have to worry about maintenance and repair. A study on Bicing, the sharing scheme in Barcelona, has even shown that "[as] a result of physical activity, 12.46 deaths were avoided [and] annual carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by an estimated 9 062 344 kg."

What about Brussels?

Brussels had its first bike sharing scheme, "Cyclocity," in 2006. The bikes (there were about 250 of them, mostly in the city centre) were quite heavy and only had three speeds which many considered inappropriate for the relief of the streets of Brussels. Also, the system of cycling paths was even worse than it is today. In short: the system was a flop compared to the huge success of its counterparts in Paris and Lyon. A second and more successful attempt was made in 2009 when Cyclocity was replaced by Villo!. As of February 2011, the network offered 2,500 bicycles at 162 locations in 11 communes. However, many of these stations (especially those located in the upper regions of Brussels) are regularly empty while others remain full.

What about the bikes?

A Villo! bike is not exactly lightweight, but rather a sturdy, reliable vehicle. It comes with an adjustable saddle, a seven-speed gear, front and rear lights, a basket, and a lock to securely park the bike. You can attach a child seat to the seat post. You pick up your bike at any station and return it to any station you like.

How do I go about this?

There are two possibilities:

  1. Register online, pay 30 € for a one-year subscription, wait for your card to arrive in the mail and cycle as much as you want for the next 365 days.
  2. Go directly to a Villo! station, purchase a day or week ticket and cycle as much as you want (the first 30 minutes are free).

Bits and pieces

Happy cycling!

This article was originally published in the September 2011 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

Articles Sat, 03 Sep 2011 18:58:41 +0000
Public Transport in Brussels - In a Nutshell Public Transport in Brussels - In a Nutshell

Unless you come from public transport heaven you will find that public transport in Brussels is not that bad at all. The Belgian capital is well-covered with bus, tram and metro lines, that will get you from A to B without you having to break the bank.

Several companies offer their services in Brussels - this is Belgium, after all! First and foremost, there is STIB or MIVB, depending on which side of the linguistic divide you prefer. The "Company for inter-communal transport in Brussels" was founded in 1954 and is a public utility operating metro, tram and bus lines. Frequency depends on the time of day and whether it's a weekday or weekend. If you're a night owl, check out their NOCTIS network of night buses. Further public transport providers include TEC, which operates in Wallonia, and De Lijn, which covers Flanders and also runs the charming Kusttram on Belgium's coast. Both companies offer bus lines into or out of Brussels - just check their maps here or here.

So where do you get tickets? Almost everywhere, actually. You can buy one on every bus or tram, albeit with a hefty premium, especially on the Airport Express Bus. The better option: the vending machines called "Go", that you'll find almost everywhere, certainly at every bigger stop or metro station. If you prefer the human touch, go to one of STIB's outlets. Tickets are valid not only for STIB, but also for the Belgian railway, De Lijn and TEC. Even for casual travelers, the best option is a 10-trip ticket. Should you need more, consider a monthly or yearly card (some employers will reimburse some or all of the cost). If you plan to use public transport regularly, do yourself a favour and get a MoBIB card. It will hold all kinds of tickets and plans (which are also cheaper this way) and is actually the only way to get into metro stations since entrance gates have been installed by STIB to crack down on fare dodgers. Additionally, you can use your MoBIB card for car-sharing and bike-sharing. De Liijn will even let you buy tickets via text message.

Accessibility is a bit of an issue, especially in some of the metro and pre-metro stops (Kunst-Wet comes to mind). However, STIB is working on this issue and things should improve in the not too distant future.

As for almost anything today, there are plenty of smartphone apps for the up-to-date traveller: STIB has a mobile version of its website, a text message service called SYNCRO and official apps for both iOS and Android devices, but you should also check out iMobi or Brussels Lines. If you prefer the big screen, Google Maps will help you plan your trip with real-time public transport information in Brussels.

There's one thing, however, that epitomises the good and bad of public transport in Brussels: getting to the airport (Zaventem or Brussels National airport). If you don't want to go their by car (parking at the airport is not cheap) or by taxi (not exactly cheap, either), you can take the bus or the train. The trouble is that there are actually two bus lines, depending on what day it is. Line 12 is the official Airport Express Bus which only serves a handful of stops. During rush hour, do not take the word "express" too seriously, though, and plan enough time in order not to miss your plane. Line 21 is also marked as an airport bus, but it only serves the airport on weekends, which confuses so many people everyday - simply because STIB doesn't make it clear enough on their signs. Sigh. Nice alternatives are De Lijn's 359 and 659 bus lines. Just hop on in Zaventem and get off at Roodebeek, which has bus and metro connections aplenty to get you into Brussels (and vice-versa).

Now you should be ready to venture into Brussels on your own. Have fun and share your experience with us!

This article was originally published in the May 2011 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

Articles Wed, 18 May 2011 13:17:20 +0000
Carsharing, anyone?

cambioHave you ever considered getting rid of your car?

Let's face it - we all like the convenience of having it just outside the door waiting to be used and take us wherever we want to go. But who wouldn't want to be rid of all the hassle that comes with owning a vehicle: filling it up with expensive gas, checking tyre pressure, refilling window cleaning liquid, standing in line at the Contrôle Technique, expensive insurance, repairs... the list goes on forever. What if there were a way to use a car whenever you really needed one without assuming the responsibility of ownership?  Well, there is: it's called Cambio.



Cambio is a company specialized in carsharing that has been active in Belgium since 2002, starting out in the Walloon Region. At the time of writing, there are over 500 users, 330 cars and 130 stations in almost 20 cities. New stations are opened constantly and chances are you have already seen the orange sign with a big C on it - each station is located close to public transport, so you can easily get there. Cambio also has partnerships with all the major public transportation companies (STIB/MIVB, De Lijn, TEC and SNCB/NMVB) and the VAB automobile association of Flanders. Because of this, Cambio users can now use their MOBIB card to open the vehicle (after having it activated by Cambio).  The company is also active in Germany and Ireland, serving about 30,000 users in total.

Usage is billed according to the time you have possession of the car (there are hourly, daily and weekly rates) and by the kilometers you actually drive: gas, insurance and everything else is included. The bigger the car, the more you pay. Other than that, you pay a one-time activation fee of 35 €, a deposit of 150 € (which you'll get back when you cancel your contract) and your monthly subscription starting at 4 € (for the "Start" category). If your spouse or partner wants to use the service as well, they can get a partner card for 25 € (one-time activation) plus 2 €/month.     Sound good All you have to do is click through to the Cambio website and fill in the membership application form. Just go with the "Start" membership category for starters and decide whether you want the SafetyPack: For 45 €/year, Cambio will restrict your financial liability in case of an accident to 200 € instead of 1000 € (Take it from me: You want this!).

Once you're a member, using Cambio is very straight-forward. First of all, you need to book the car you want at the nearest station in advance (well in advance if you need it over the weekend or on a holiday). This is done via telephone (it's a 070 number, so you always pay the local fee) or via the member's area on the Cambio website. You'll receive a confirmation e-mail containing all the information you need.  To pick up your car, simply head to the station, find your car and swipe your magnetic member card over the reader under the windscreen: the doors will open automatically. Now, all you have to do is enter your PIN into the on-board computer and retrieve the keys. You're good to go! (Don't forget to put the parking barrier back up after pulling out of the parking space. Sometimes people will just ignore the Cambio sign and use it as a private parking space.)

What kind of cars does Cambio offer?

In general, Cambio has different kinds of cars available for different purposes: small cars such as the Opel Corsa or Ford Fiesta for basic needs, the Opel Astra Caravan or the Opel Zafira for your family trips and even an Opel Combo transporter for your IKEA shopping spree. However, availability is restricted by demand, and not all kinds of cars are available at every station.

Is it really always available?

It depends - weekends and holidays are peak days for Cambio, so book early if you really need a car. Otherwise, if your nearest station is out of cars, you'll almost certainly find another station not too far away.

Can my company use Cambio?

A company membership is also available upon request. In fact, about 40% of all reservations are made for professional purposes.     Are you curious now If you're not willing to get rid of your car just yet, Cambio is also an option if you are thinking about a second car.

It's worth a try - happy carsharing!

Tihs article was originally published in the November 2010 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

Articles Thu, 11 Nov 2010 14:09:54 +0000
Easy Tricks to Eco-Driving

Save fuel up to 20-30%, drive more safely and cut your green house gas emissions!

  •  Shift to a higher gear as soon as possible (above 2000-2500 revolutions);
  •  Drive smoothly: try to keep a constant speed (cruise control where possible) and avoid breaking and speeding. Anticipate the situation in the traffic: let your car “roll” without touching the gas pedal;
  •  Keep distance with the car in front of you, this allows you to drive smoothly;
  •  Keep your speed on the motor way around 100-110 kph;
  •  If you need to break, first try to brake by going down in gear and touch the brake pedal slightly - just to show the one behind you that you will slow down - and only use the brake pedal full force if necessary;
  •  Do not “warm up” your motor before starting to drive in cold weather;
  •  Reverse your car into your driveway while the motor (=oil) is still warm when you come home – so that you can drive off forward in 1st gear right away next time you leave - instead of backing up and then driving off on a cold motor when you leave;
  •  Do not leave the luggage compartment or bike holder on the roof unnecessarily. A filled luggage compartment uses up to 40% of your fuel and an empty one up to 10%; a bike holder with bikes on the roof uses 20-30% of your fuel and consumes much less if placed on the back of your car; * Avoid using air-conditioning and save up to 30% of your fuel;
  •  Turn off the motor if you need to wait more than ½ minute;
  •  Avoid using the car on very hot days or during smog peaks; if you cannot avoid it lower your speed;
  •  Check the pressure of your tires once a month in order to save fuel and to drive more safely.
  • Photo by BondBeterLeefmilieu on flickr!Links and both with info in English


    Commuters can save some $800 a year in gas by keeping their cars maintained, driving smoothly, and using alternative transportation one day a week, according to the American Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) -
    source: Our Planet Weekly, 13 July 2008
    This article can be found in the March 2010 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.
    Articles Wed, 17 Mar 2010 15:59:34 +0000
    Re-Cycling Bicycles

    recyclo1Billing itself as the ‘car drivers detox center’ (le centre de désintoxication pour automobilistes), Cyclo has been promoting cycling in all sorts of clever ways for over 10 years now. Not only do they rebuild used bikes into better-than new condition, they also help equip the unemployed with skills that get them back into the workforce. Workers rotate in a 3-year program that starts with them working alongside a professional mechanic rebuilding bikes and has them finish by managing the shop, sales and all.

    Cyclo trains more than just their employees. From February to March, every Thursday night, they run workshops where you can learn more about working on your own bike. If you simply need tools and/or a place to work on your ride, they do that too. All they ask in return is 1/4 of your time to help around shop.

    Does your current bike need sprucing up? Bring it in and they’ll set it right at just 36 Euros/hr. You’ll find them on the web at and at rue de Flandre 85, 1000 Brussels, or you can call them at 02 513 95 55.


    If you’ve got an old bike you’d like to donate, they’ll gladly take it in, providing it’s a decent brand and not a ‘supermarket special’.

    recyclo2If you’re looking for the perfect bike but don’t want to consume all the energy and materials that go into manufacturing a bike by buying new, Cyclo has the answer! For between 150 and 200 Euros you get a professionaly re-built unit using new parts where necessary and quality used pieces for the rest. Even better, you get a cleaner conscious and the knowledge you’re helping get people back into gear.

    This article was originally published in the March 2009 version of the Sunbeams Newsletter.
    Articles Tue, 31 Mar 2009 15:42:00 +0000
    Conquering Brussels

    When I first moved to Brussels three years ago, I used to commute by bike across the Place Flagey to Avenue Louise. Every morning I would pass a woman heading in the other direction, wobbly and uncertain on her brand new mountain bike, helmet firmly fastened, reflective vests and lights all over, a look of terror in her eyes as if she was being forced to swing dance in a mine field. I realized in watching her, just how intimidating biking in Brussels can be. But trust me, it can be done! With some simple guidelines, biking in Brussels can become such a safe, efficient, and pleasant way to get around the city that you’ll never move any other way – and that’s to say nothing of all the pollution you’ll save by doing it.

    Rules of the Road starters, you need to know some basic rules. Bikes are allowed in both directions on almost any street in Brussels. For one-way streets, this means that as long as the sign says “Excepté/Uitgezonderd” with a picture of a bike, you can ride in the opposite direction. Studies have shown that there is no increase in accidents on these kinds of roads. Otherwise, cyclists are obliged to follow the same rules as cars: giving priority to pedestrians and vehicles entering from the right, stopping at red lights, and obeying all traffic signs. Bikes cannot ride on the sidewalks. Where there is a designated bike path, bikes are obliged to use it – though if it is shared with pedestrians, pedestrians have the right of way. Once you start biking, you’ll notice that some streets are more bike-friendly than others, certain roads follow ridges rather than climbing hills, and there are some intersections to be avoided at all costs.

    Cycling Map

    The best way to find your own cycling routes is to take a look at the Brussels cycling map, available for sale in a waterproof hardcopy or for free download. The map shows the contours of hills and also codes the streets of the city in terms of their openness for bikes. It can seem a little complicated at first, but once you learn how to read it, you won’t leave home without it.


    If there is one basic rule of bike security in Brussels it is this: skimp on the bike, splurge on the lock. Bike theft is reality in Brussels, if you bike long enough, you’ll have one stolen; consider it something of a rite of passage. Still, splurge on the lock. Any bike shop should be able to tell you which locks are the best, and it is well worth the investment – forty Euros on a lock is cheaper than two hundred Euros on a new bike. But even the best lock isn’t fool proof. Bikes should always be attached to an immovable object (bike racks are best) and the wheel (particularly if it is a “quick release” wheel) should be attached to the frame.

    The Brussels region also offers a service of bike engraving. This can be done for free at any bike event or on specific days at your local commune and police station, or for one euro at the Pro Velo offices in Brussels. This technique engraves your national identity number indelibly onto the frame of the bike with the goal of deterring theft and helping to restore recovered bikes to their owners.

    Regardless, whether your bike is engraved or not, make note of the bike’s make, model, and frame number (visible on the frame, underneath where the pedals attach) and keep them somewhere safe so that if there is a theft, you can report it with all the details. And please do report it! As of now, bike theft is not a major priority for the Brussels police, and this has a lot to do with the statistics on bike theft being underreported! Too many people just shrug it off and go to Gare du Midi to get a new bike. By reporting theft, you can help make the roads safer for all the other bikes rolling around Brussels now.

    This article was originally published in the May 2009 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

    Articles Wed, 17 Mar 2010 15:27:12 +0000
    Biking in Belgium

    Fietsknooppunt KempenSo you’ve decided to take up the challenge and you get yourself all outfitted with a new bike, and then the Belgian sun makes a rare appearance and you’re rearing to go out for a ride…

    But where? How about just about anywhere! Belgium has some of the best networks for cycling in the world, offering paved, accessible, well-signed and maintained routes throughout the country. Yes, throughout the country! Cycling is one of the few true Belgian national values, though of course, even in this regard there are some regional differences to get to know.

    In Flanders, cycling follows the comprehensive Fietsknooppunten Netwerk, or the Cycling Interchange Network. You’ve probably seen these signs around from time to time – the green numbers pointing every which way throughout Flanders – and the system can be a little confusing if you don’t know exactly how it works. The Interchange network was adapted from the old system used below ground in the Limburg mines. Numbers refer to junctions between different pathways, and signs between junctions show the fastest way to get there. In the cycling version, the junctions and signs have been laid out to indicate the most scenic, most bike-friendly paths between two intersections.

    To plan a perfect Flemish bike ride then, all you need to do is pick a string of junctions and then calculate the distance and follow the signs. The network has been so successful, it even extends over the border now into the Netherlands. To pick a route, you can either buy a map at a local Flemish tourist office (ask for the 'Fietsknooppunten Netwerk' map) or you can go online and click your way around the interactive map of the network.

    A personal recommendation – the rides around Ieper/Ypres offer a great way to see some of Flanders’ most historic sites up close and personal, the way only a bike can offer. Biking is also a great way to explore the North Sea coast, or to visit some of Flanders’ Trappist breweries (Westvleteren for one is a rare treat).

    And of course Wallonia has no less by way of biking, even if cycling there can seem a little more daunting: even at its worst, Flanders has little that can compare to the hills of the Ardennes.

    Want to learn more about biking in Belgium?

    Maybe you want to rent a folding bike for a week and try biking to work before you decide to buy your own? Or maybe you just want to learn more about the environmental benefits of cycling? Here are some great places to start (and of course, there is more on our website).

    Fortunately, at least for those of us who aren’t quite up to trying out for the Tour de France next year, the largest Walloon cycling network manages to keep things relatively flat and family-friendly. This is the RAVeL network, which was established in the 1990’s to try and make the most of what was by then a surplus of unused former railroads and canal tow paths. Through a rigorous process of environmental preservation and route cultivation, almost 900 kilometers of former railroads and canal tow paths have now been converted into beautiful paved bike paths, often passing through extensive stretches of nature reserves. The RAVeL network is divided into four different bike paths that cross through every province in Wallonia. Through the REVER initiative (Reseau de Voies Vertes), the network is even in the process of expanding into France and Luxemburg as well. To find out more about which route passes nearest to you and which offers the nicest bit of cycling, more information is available on the RAVeL website.

    By way of personal recommendation, the RAVeL 2, which follows the valley of the Meuse through Dinant and Namur on its way from Mariembourg to Hoegaarden offers some really beautiful riding.

    And lastly, Brussels is no small fry in this area either. In fact, the brand new 'Promenade Verte' which officially opened with a party in May 2009 offers a sixty kilometer route through some of Brussels’ most beautiful parks. The path really shows why Brussels is one of Europe’s greenest cities, and if you pick up a Brussels cycling map (see the article on cycling in Brussels) you can join the route wherever you feel the inclination. And of course, all of these choices are well serviced by rail connections (see tips on bikes on trains below) so you can start or stop wherever the inclination hits you, and cafés galore, so when the weather is perfect you can stop and enjoy that other Belgian specialty – a local beer on a sundrenched terrace.

    Though of course, if you’re rolling well, why stop at the borders? Belgium’s coast also shares a part of the North Sea Cycle Route, a network of over 9,000 kilometers including Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and the coast of Great Britain. If you can manage to bike the whole route, and you have your trip posted on their online wall of fame, do us a favor and let them know Sunbeams sent you! Happy pedaling!

    Bikes on Trains

    For those of us without fancy folding bikes, getting our two-wheelers around by train can seem a bit daunting. Fortunately though, with a little know-how, it’s not nearly so difficult as it may seem. The first thing to know is, no matter how much your bike may feel part of your body, it needs a separate ticket. These are available at any ticket desk as a one-way trip or all-day pass. To board the train, bikes can be loaded at any Belgian station with the exception of Brussels-Central, Brussels-Congress, and Brussels Kappellekerk, where the stops aren’t long enough to allow for loading and unloading.

    You may want to avoid peak hours as well since things can get a bit hectic then and spots for bikes aren’t guaranteed. When the train pulls into the station, just get the attention of one of the conductors and tell them you want to take your bike on with you. They will lead you to the bike carriage and load your bike for you. You just tell them when you want to get off and then go find a seat to enjoy the ride…

    This article was originally published in the May 2009 edition of the Sunbeams newsletter.



    Articles Wed, 17 Mar 2010 15:23:14 +0000
    Ozone Pollution in the Summertime

    summersmogIn the winter, we talk about winter smog. In the summer, ozone pollution is the one to watch. Winter smog and ozone pollution are very different in nature, but both are related to man-made pollution. The good news is that we all can contribute and help to prevent these phenomena. The summer ozone, however, needs a much more long term approach. What is it about?

    We all know ozone (O3) from the hole in the ozone layer: the “good” kind of ozone protecting us. But ozone is also present it the lower strata of the atmosphere, and you might even know its smell: you can smell it strongly after lightning or in a closed room with lots of printers and computers running. The ozone pollution we are talking about stems from high concentrations of ozone at the ground level part of the atmosphere which are heated by the sun. This in combination with polluted air creates the “bad” ozone. So what you need for the “bad” cocktail are the following ingredients:

    1. Lots of sun, or rather UV radiation;
    2. Heat, and that means 25 degrees Celsius and above;
    3. Pollution, with nitrogen oxides (NO) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) which are in fact chemicals, like solvents;
    4. Wind, the one coming from the continent (S, SE and E) and with low speed or dropping to wind stillness;
    5. Continuation of these conditions for more than a few days.

    Because of the high temperatures needed, the phenomena only occurs in Belgium between May and August (sometimes also in April or September). Of course, it is not just a Belgian problem: other countries with the same conditions will have an ozone peak as well.

    What is the harm?

    It is harmful for our health because it can make you feel rather unwell. Sensitive people, like asthma and heart patients, elderly people and children might even have more problems. The first signs are being short of breath, irritated eyes, nose, and throat. The next level of symptoms would be head ache, nausea, dizziness, and pain in the chest, coughing, and persons already suffering from respiratory tract or heart problems need to be very careful. The way you will react depends very much on the concentration levels in the air, on the duration of exposure to it, on the individual sensitivity to it, and on your level of physical activity on such days (e.g. jogging).

    How to protect yourself on peak days

    Check the website of IRCELINE or the media for ozone warnings or be alert on continuous hot days with little or without wind. You can also ask to be sent an email with a pollution warning by adding your name to the IRCELINE mailing list - just write a message to The concentrations tend to be almost double as high outside as inside. The worst time is from 12.00 until 8.00 pm, so one should air the rooms before or after this peak period. One should avoid heavy physical activities on those days. If you really are sensitive, you should stay indoors as much as possible until the peak is over. There is also a difference in ozone depending on where you are: cities have less ozone concentrations than the country side and a breeze at the seaside might blow it all away.

    What is done to prevent ozone peaks?

    The problem is that ozone is a very volatile matter so one cannot catch it and store it. It might also sound like a contradiction, but the pollution by traffic - or rather their NO emissions - actually neutralizes the ozone in the air (and turns it into less harmful NO2). That explains why the ozone concentrations are higher at the country side. It also explains why cutting down on car pollution on ozone peak days will not help, on the contrary. Actually, not much can be done on the peak days itself, and this is another difference with the so-called winter smog. In a broader perspective, what needs to be done is:

    1. Drastic cuts in pollution causing the bad ozone problem (NO and VOC)
    2. Measures applied to the whole of Europe and not only to Belgium
    3. Measures during the WHOLE year and not during peaks.

    The EU is luckily aware of this and they have approved guidelines (NEC) to cut down on pollution leading to the ozone problem. As from 2010, these guidelines will hopefully show an improvement of the situation. You can read more on the measures taken by the Belgian authorities on their website (under environment, ozone, and then “what Belgium does”).

    What can you do?

    That is the good news! We can already do something today and it does not require big changes, just small steps! However, as we saw above, these steps should preferably be implemented all year round. Here are some suggestions to choose from:

    1. Leave the car at home! Just give it a try to walk, take the bike or public transport of small distances ; car sharing with parents at school can mean a cut by 50% of your car use; maybe learn how to eco-drive.
    2. If you buy a car, consider a smaller, less polluting one;
    3. Try a local holiday! Taking the car instead of the airplane or the train instead of the car; taking the bike with you on the car or train; all little things help!
    4. Choose cleaning products with an eco-label!
    5. Do not use products, like glue, ink, painting, thinners, and varnish, or print work which include solvents (“oplosmiddelen” or “solventen” in Dutch, “solvants” in French)! Try to look for water based products and those with a European eco-label;
    6. Make sure your heating system is efficient and have it checked regularly for maintenance!
    7. Reduce your waste and recycle: the burning of waste causes 1/3 of the pollution problems related to ozone peaks (see also feature on children’s parties for more suggestions).

    More info is available at IRCELINE on predictions and warnings. The Ministry of Health has more details on ozone in Belgium. The Brussels Environment Institute (Dutch and French only) has a “pollumeter” on their website showing a daily measurement of pollution in Brussels.

    This article was published by Sunbeams in the July 2009 edition of its newsletter.

    Articles Fri, 31 Jul 2009 14:11:00 +0000