The ILME plan's measures focus particularly on reducing street dust and traffic noise, as well as combating emissions from small-scale wood burning. Photo: Roni Rekomaa

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The city of Helsinki has unveiled a comprehensive plan to enhance both air quality and noise environment, marking a pioneering step in integrating these two critical urban concerns. The new Air Protection and Noise Abatement Plan (ILME) outlines a vision for 2040 where Helsinki’s air quality and soundscape are exemplary.

The ILME plan, targeting the period from 2024 to 2029, sets ten ambitious goals to be achieved through nearly 40 specific measures.

These actions focus on reducing street dust, emissions from small-scale wood burning, and traffic noise, which are major sources of pollution and disturbance in the city.

Continuing a Legacy of Environmental Commitment

Helsinki’s efforts to improve air quality and reduce noise pollution date back to the 1980s. Laura Walin, head of the Environmental Protection and Control Unit, emphasizes the importance of sustained efforts in these areas, especially as the city grows and becomes denser around busy traffic routes.

"Through consistent work over the years, we have improved the quality and comfort of our urban environment. As the city continues to grow, the importance of air protection and noise abatement will only increase," Walin stated.

Traffic: The Major Noise Pollutant

The percentage of Helsinki residents living in noisy areas has slightly increased in recent decades, with road traffic being the primary culprit. A 2022 noise survey revealed that 39% of residents live in areas where daytime traffic noise exceeds the guideline level of 55 dB.

"Quiet and restorative areas are incredibly important to residents. In addition to combating traffic noise, the ILME plan includes measures to develop areas that provide a peaceful sound environment," said environmental expert Anne Leppänen.

Anticipating Stricter Air Quality Regulations

Helsinki’s air quality has seen considerable improvements over the past few decades and is relatively good by international standards. However, street dust, vehicle emissions, and small-scale wood burning still pose health risks and affect environmental comfort.

The upcoming EU air quality directive, expected to take effect this year, will impose stricter binding limits on air pollutants by 2030, based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) updated guidelines. These stricter regulations reflect the growing understanding that air pollutants can cause health issues even at low concentrations, and many health impacts are still not fully known.

"Helsinki aims to further improve air quality with the new ILME plan and prepare for stricter future air quality limits," explained environmental expert Suvi Haaparanta. "The ILME plan will be updated as needed to implement more effective measures to meet these new binding standards."

The city’s Environmental and Licensing Committee approved the new Air Protection and Noise Abatement Plan on May 23, 2024. The full ILME plan and background reports are available on the city’s website at www.hel.fi/ilme.

HT

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