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The state of emergency was declared in the three cities on 15 November paving the way for urgent measures to be introduced to tackle pollution from vehicles in Italy’s second biggest and richest city, Milan, and the Sicilian town of Messina, and from boats in the tourist mecca of Venice. Growing boat traffic in the latter city’s waterways prompted the emergency, as water pollution and motion from boats is eroding historic buildings set alongside the many canals. In Milan, high levels of particulate (PM10) and benzene are frequently detected, while Messina has high PM10 levels, but benzene is not a problem. The country was recently found to have the worst smog problem in the EU (see related story).

Italy’s principal environmental NGO, Legambiente, has called the announcement of the state of emergency, which are predicted to last for up to a year, cynical, saying that, under these circumstances, many other cities, including Rome, should also receive the same warning. The group points out that PM10 levels are highest in Turin, and higher than Milan and Messina in Rome and Florence. Benzene levels are treble Milan’s in Naples, and are also far higher in Genoa, Rome and Turin.

“If Milan is gasping, Rome, Naples, Turin and other big urban centres are not breathing any more easily,” said Legambiente’s president Ermete Realacci.

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