Swiss air quality not as pure as the government says

A lovely day in Switzerland

Air pollution: real time data

The National Air Pollution Monitoring Network (NABEL) and cantonal and urban monitoring networks provide information on current concentrations of the principal pollutants.

We returned safely from a wet day of touring in Basel, France and Germany. That sounds like a lot of touring, and it was, but truth be told we only took a step or two into France and Germany, having made it to the point where the three borders meet.

I’ll post pictures later, but in the meantime, enjoy this lovely clip-out from the Swiss meteorology office measuring air pollutants in Switzerland. As you can see, the colour is primarily blue showing a minimal amount of air pollution over the entire nation, but for a few points of green (more pollution) near the Italian border. Ah, those pesky Italians pumping their pollutants into Switzerland’s pure alpine climate. Those rascals.

This map fascinates me, only because of its inaccuracy. Very likely, the measurement was taken of air well above the surface level, or perhaps on some uninhabited alpine slope, but in the cities, connoisseurs of untainted oxygen will differ with the official version presented on the national weather website, for in Switzerland wherever there are people, there is a haze of nicotine-laced smoke.

For all their mountain-climbing, marathon-hiking vigour, the Swiss have a fair number of chain-smokers in their midst. In addition to the fact that we spend almost all our outdoor time exposed to second-hand smoke, these smokers introduce other hazards.

On a crowded escalator at the Basel train station, a woman pushed her way through the crowd with a cigar dangling from her lip, precariously close to the heads and therefore highly flammable hair of other escalator-riders.

On Friday, as I entered a mall, I had to dodge a lit cigarette that a man had flicked outside the door. He hadn’t looked to see if anyone was in the way of his cigarette’s trajectory. I might have protested, but he had a surly expression and an open beer can in his hand, so I let it pass (public drinking of alcohol is legal everywhere, so it seems, even where cigarette-smoking is not, such as in malls).

Even in parks, the aroma of tobacco is never far away.

Switzerland is still in the throes of introducing public smoking bans, and even though some plebiscites on the question have produced landslide support for bans (80 per cent in favor in Geneva in a 2008 vote), smoking persists.

Interestingly, this is one area where Canada leads Switzerland, although smokers will not agree that this is a step forward.  In the meantime, asthmatic visitors to Switzerland are advised to bring an ample supply of inhalers.

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