Massimo Pinca  /  AP file
Turin's Vittorio Emanuele Avenue had little traffic on Jan. 22 when the city limited traffic due to smog levels. But those restrictions aren't in effect during the Olympics, leading to high smog days.
updated 2/14/2006 3:49:24 PM ET 2006-02-14T20:49:24

Smog levels in the Winter Olympics host city are in almost daily violation of European Union limits, but authorities said Tuesday that taking measures against air pollution would disrupt the running of the games.

Monitoring stations across the city are constantly detecting pollutant levels that are dangerous to human health, said Enrico Garrou, director of the Regional Environment Protection Agency in Turin.

Most alarming are the levels of particulate matter — particles of soot and dirt tinier than a human hair but dangerous enough to damage lungs and increase cancer risks.

Surpassed annual quota
The EU limit for particulate matter, most of which comes from diesel engines, is set at 50 micrograms per cubic meter, and this limit must not be breached for more than 35 days each year, Garrou said.

But smoggy Turin has already run out of its 2006 credit, breaching the limit for 38 days with levels often three times higher than allowed. Experts have also detected dangerous levels of nitrogen oxides, which produce ozone — a major component of smog that can irritate people who have asthma, emphysema and bronchitis.

Garrou didn't blame the Olympics for the pollution, saying that such figures are common for Turin and that last year the particulate matter limit was breached nearly 200 times.

"The problem is that we don't have enough wind and rain to sweep away the pollution," he said.

No car ban
Italian cities usually react to high pollution levels with partial or complete traffic bans, but taking such measures in Turin is impossible with the Olympics underway, said city spokesman Riccardo Caldara.

"There is nothing we can do in this period except hope that the weather will change and bring wind and rain," Caldara said.

Legambiente, an Italian environment group, strongly protested the lack of action.

"In Turin we don't even talk about it, but in reality the air quality in the Olympic city is terrible," the group said in a statement Sunday.

Legambiente and other environmental groups plan to cycle through the city center on Saturday in a protest against pollution.

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