There may be a continual increase in urban traffic, but Malaga province still has the lowest level of environmental pollution in Andalucía and one of the lowest in Spain, according to statistics for 2015 which have been issued recently by the Junta de Andalucía's Environmental Ministry.
The ministry uses a network of measuring devices throughout the region to obtain information about pollution levels in real time. The figures show that only one specific contaminant, ozone, exceeded permitted levels in 2015, on three days during July and August.
In the case of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM10 particles (less than 10 micrometres), the report warns that in Malaga "legal levels have not been exceeded but a potential problem does exist".
With regard to the PM10s, it should be taken into account that corrective factors are applied because of natural phenomena such as the 'calima', the name given to suspended dust from Africa. If this were not the case, the registered levels would be much higher.
The other provinces in Andalucía - not to mention cities such as Madrid, where there are increasingly frequent warnings about pollution - suffer more environmental problems than Malaga.
The worst case is Huelva, because of its chemical industry, but Cordoba, Granada and rural areas such as Villanueva del Arzobispo, in Jaén, also stand out. In fact, according to environmental experts, within Spain as a whole, the Costa del Sol is one of the places with the lowest levels of air contamination, behind only Galicia and the Levante region.
Traffic is the worst problem
The Junta directly manages six measuring stations in the province: Juan XXIII, El Atabal, Carranque and Campanillas in the city, plus Marbella and Campillos. In addition, there are two belonging to Gas Natural, one for its thermal power station on the Andalusian Technology Park and the other at the cement plant at La Araña.
Although the situation is not bad, the experts warn that traffic causes almost 50 per cent of emissions in the province. Cars produce problems of all types for the environment: carbon monoxide, particles, nitrogen oxide etc. Urban pollution is the only type to affect Malaga province because of the lack of industry, apart from the combined cycle thermal power plant (which emits mainly water vapour) and the cement plant at La Araña, where emissions are primarily particles.
Heat consumption is also very low in this region. On top of this, the majority of the population lives on the coast, subject to continual easterly and westerly winds and these, together with the sea, act as drains for the gases.
Particles are considered the biggest problem of atmospheric contamination in this area, and these are mainly caused by the African 'calima'. The highest permitted level is 50 micrometres per cubic metre, but in this area it reaches 55 on some days. However, the official measurements show that it is caused by the dust from the Sahara. Normally, the measurement in the province is 48 micrometres, and the maximum levels are only exceeded on occasion.
The second form of pollution is ozone, which has two characteristics, one positive and one negative. On one hand, it filters ultraviolet rays, which is good, but on the other hand a higher concentration than normal distorts the formation of cells in the organism, such as photosynthesis in plants. Its production is directly related to exhaust fumes from vehicles. In Malaga the maximum permitted level is only exceeded occasionally, on no more than three days a year. The legal limit is measured every eight hours, on average. However, its presence is often close to the maximum and for that reason it needs to be closely monitored. In Seville, warnings about excessive levels were given on four occasions in 2015. Experts at the regional government say that the only way of controlling this pollution is by restricting use of private vehicles, especially in the most congested areas of cities.
The worst levels occur in summer and when the 'terral' wind is blowing, for several reasons. There is more atmospheric stability, no rainfall and the Saharan intrusions also occur at this time of year; in addition, the weather is hot and that also has a negative effect.
The Andalusian Strategy for Air Quality says the province needs to reduce private traffic in large cities as a way of controlling the emissions of particles and nitrogen oxide. In addition, it apportions some of the blame to transportation and extraction such as the quarrying of aggregates.
The conclusion from environmental experts is that the air in Malaga is good quality in general, but that nobody should drop their guard.