The Environment Agency of Iceland

The Environment Agency of Iceland

The Environment Agency operates under the direction of the Ministry for the Environment. It's role is to promote the protection as well as sustainable use of Iceland’s natural resources, as well as public welfare by helping to ensure a healthy environment, and safe consumer goods.

Areas of operation:

  • Information and advice for the public, businesses and regulatory authorities
  • Monitoring of environmental quality
  • Evaluation of environmental impact assessment and development plans
  • Operation supervision, inspection, operating permits, etc.
  • Conservation: the management and supervision of designated protected areas
  • Assessment of conservation effects and registration of unique nature sites
  • Risk analysis
  • Wildlife management
  • Collaboration in Scandinavian, other European and international agreements/projects
  • Eco-labelling
  • Processing applications for approval of pesticides and issuing market authorisations.
  • Wildlife conservation
  • Labelling and handling of toxic as well as other hazardous substances
  • Health and safety in public places
  • Coordination of local health inspectorates
  • Genetically modified foods (GMF).


What is The Environment Agency of Iceland in...

  • Icelandic: Umhverfisstofnun
  • German: Isländische Umweltagentur
  • French: Agence islandaise pour l'environnement
  • Spanish: Agencia Islandesa de Medio Ambiente
  • Swedish: Isländska miljöbyrån
  • Italian: Agenzia Islandese per l'Ambiente

Due to an oceanic climate and steady winds the outdoor air quality in Iceland is generally quite good. Local emission of air pollution is mainly due to road traffic and fishing boats. Iceland is also exposed to transboundary air pollution originating mainly from Europe and North America.

Air quality monitoring

Air quality has been monitored in Reykjavik since 1985 when the Environment and Food Agency of Iceland (EFA) started a measuring station at Miklatorg where airborne dust & heavy metals were measured. The city of Reykjavik Environmental Health and Protection Office (EHPO) initiated another monitoring station at Grensas in 1990, where NO2, CO, O3, SO2, ozone, benzene and dust (PM2,5 & PM10) have been measured. For many years the Grensas station was located for 3 months per year at various sites for special projects, usually 2 - 4 weeks at each location, e.g. at traffic hot spots, kindergartens and different suburban locations. Today the Grensas station serves as the main urban traffic station in Reykjavik due to a contract between EFA and EHPO in 2002 from which time monitoring at Miklatorg was discontinued in 2002.

EFA has also measured background ozone at Keldnaholt in suburban Reykjavik as well as airborne dust in Akranes and Alvidra, both within 50 km from Reykjavik. An urban background station has been running from autumn 2002, in Laugardalur. In addition a portable station is available since 2002, giving data for various locations in the city. Lake Myvatn station in North Iceland was set up in the yar 2000.

Table: Air quality monitoring in Iceland


Type of station

Measured components

Operation period

Miklatorg, Reykjavik

Urban traffic

Heavy metals, PM10, PM2,5

1986 - June 2002

Grensas, Reykjavik

Urban traffic

CO, NOx O3, SO2, PM2.5, PM10, BTX, CH4, THC

1990 -

Portable, Reykjavik

Variable urban

NOx, PM10

2002 -

Keldnaholt, Reykjavik

Urban background

NOx, O3

1999 -

Laugardalur, Reykjavik

Urban background

NOx, O3, PM2.5, PM10

2002 -

Akranes, West Iceland

Rural background

PM10, NOx

1999 - 2001

Alvidra, South Iceland

Rural background

PM10, NOx

1999 - 2001

Lake Myvatn, N-Iceland

Rural background


2000 -



Fluoride, PM10, SO2

1999 -



Fluoride, PM10, SO2

1994 -




2002 -

Reports in English:

Iceland's National Programme of Action

For the protection of the marine environment from land-based activities

In 1995, 114 states, including Iceland, approved the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment. The agreement was an important stepping stone in the fight against marine pollution, which stems largely (80%) from land-based activities.

The Ministry for the Environment consigned The Environmental and Food Agency of Iceland to prepare a National Programme of Action (NPA) for Iceland. The report has been adopted by the Icelandic Government.

The structure of the NPA and its approach to the issue follows that of the GPA but with special reference to Icelandic conditions and policy of Icelandic authorities.

The report can be obtained by contacting the Evironmental Agency of Iceland.

The ministry for the environment issued in 2006 a report on the implementation of the National Programme of Actions.


Pollution emergency response


The Icelandic Coast Guard
Operations Centre


  • Tel: (+354) 545 2100 (open 24/7)
  • Fax: (+354) 545 2001
  • Web site:
  • e-mail:
  • Skógarhlíð 14
  • 105 Reykjavik, Iceland







The Environmental Agency of Iceland

  • Suðurlandsbraut 24, 108 Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Tel: (+354) 591 2000 (office hours)
  • Mobile: (+354) 822 4003
  • Fax: (+354) 591 2010
Volcanic gases with possible effect human health are released into the atmosphere from the eruption in Holuhrauni. The most abundant gases are water ( H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2). Other substances such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S), hydrogen(H2), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen chloride (HCl), hydrogen fluoride (HF) og helium (He) are also released, but in smaller amounts.

The human health effect is mainly caused by SO2, the most common symptoms are irritation in eyes, throat and respiratory tract and people can experience difficulties in breathing in high concentrations of SO2. Persons with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and heart diseases are more sensitive compared to healthy people and develop symptoms at lower concentrations compared to others. They are adviced to have their respiratory medication available. It is wise to use the same recommendations for children as for people with underlying respiratory diseases, although no reliable data on children and SO2 is available.

It is therefore of importance to monitor the concentration of SO2 in the atmosphere. The Icelandic Met Office mesasures SO2 at the eruption site and developes daily forcasts on SO2 concentration in the atmosphere that are based on SO2 measurements and weather conditions. The purpose is to alert the public in areas where high concentration can be expected and the results are published on The Icelandic Met Office home page. The amount of SO2 that are released in the eruption is an important factor, but the wind direction and force also have a large impact on the concentration of SO2 in the athmosphere.

It should be reiterated that it is impossible to foresee all circumstances and it is therefore crucial to respond to unexpected events. The general public is encouraged to respond if an unextpected plume appears, stay indoors, close windows and turn of the air conditioning if they experience symptoms from the plume. 

The Envrionment Agency of Iceland measures SO2 in various locations, information is available at the home page for the agency.

Further information on symptoms caused by SO2 at different concentration levels is avaiable in this table.

Health Effects of Short-term Volcanic SO2 Exposure and Recommended Actions 

The colors in the table indicate the average concentration of SO2 for 10-15 minutes. The health effects depend both on the time of SO2 exposure and SO2 concentration. Health effect limits are defined as the average concentration of SO2 of 350 µg/m3 for one hour or 125 µg/m3 for 24 hours.


Concentration of SO2 Air quality description Recommended actions
ppm  All children. Sensitive Groups *
Healthy individuals
0-0.1 Poses little or no health risk. Can experience mild respiratory symptoms. No health effects expected.
350- 600
0.1-0.2  May cause respiratory symptoms in individuals with underlying diseases. Caution advised. Follow SO2 measurements closely. Avoid outdoor activities. Shut down air conditioning. Health effects unlikely. Shut down air conditioning.
    Unhealthy for sensitive individuals    
0.2-0.7 Individuals with underlying diseases likely to experience respiratory symptoms. Health effects unlikely in healthy individuals. Avoid outdoor activities. Shut down air conditioning. Health effects not expected. Heavy outdoor activities not advised.
0.7-3.0 Everyone may experience respiratory symptoms especially individuals with underlying diseases. Remain indoors and close the windows. Shut down air conditioning. Avoid outdoor activities. Remaining indoors advised. Close the windows and shut down air conditioning.
2,600 1.0  Working limits fro 15 minutes All work forbidden except with use of gas masks.  All work forbidden except with use of gas masks. 
    Very unhealthy    
3.0-5.0 Everyone may experience more severe respiratory symptoms. Remain indoors and close the windows. Shut down air conditioning. Follow closely official advises. Remain indoors and close the windows. Shut down air conditioning. Follow closely official advises.
>5.0 Serious respiratory symptoms expected. Remain indoors and close the windows. Shut down air conditioning. Follow closely official advises. Remain indoors and close the windows. Shut down air conditioning. Follow closely official advises.

*Children and adults with pre-existing bronchial asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and/or heart diseases.

Working limits: 

If the average SO2 concentration exceeds 1.300 µg/m3 for 8 hours, the working period has to be shortened proportionally to the SO2 concentration or appropriate gas masks have to be used. It the average SO2 concentration exceeds 2.600 µg/m3 for 15 minutes, all work has to be stopped or appropriate gas masks have to be used.

See Administration of Occupational Safety and Health

General recommendations: 

  • Individuals with pre-existing pulmonary and heart diseases are encouraged to have their medications readily available. 
  • Breathe with your nose as much as possible and avoid physical exercise outdoors during heavy pollution as this will reduce the amount of SO2 reaching the lungs. 
  • Remaining indoors with windows closed and air conditioning shut down provides a significant protection against the pollution. 

Further measures: 

During heavy SO2 pollution and if you experience respiratory difficulties, even indoors, you can take the following measures to reduce the concentration of SO2 in the air by preparing a simple air cleaning device. 

  1. Take 5 grams of ordinary baking soda and dilute it in 1 liter of water. 
  2. Soak a piece of cloth, e.g. a dish towel, a thin towel or an old fashioned flat cloth diaper in the solution. 
  3. Wring most of the water from the cloth so that no water leaks from it. 
  4. Fasten the damp cloth on to some sort of frame, e.g. a drying rack, and fasten it on all sides of the rack, for instance by means of clothespins. 
  5. Place the rack in the room where the air is to be cleaned. 
  6. The cloth must be kept damp if it is to continue to work as intended and to keep its moisture you should spray it with water, e.g. from a flower spray bottle. 
  7. In order to increase the effect let a table top fan blow air on the cloth. NB! The fan is an electric tool, so take care that moisture from the cloth or the spray bottle does not reach the fan. The fan must be situated at a safe distance from the cloth, no closer than about two meters. By no means spread the cloth over the fan itself. 
  8. If a fan is not available the cloth will still be effective, particularly if placed close to wall heaters since there is more air flow in the proximity of heaters than in other places in the home. NB! There is no need to spread the cloth over the heater, it is sufficient to place it on a rack by the side of it. Be careful with electric heaters as the air flow around them must not be restricted and they must never be covered. 
  9. If a high concentration of SO2 continues for a long period the cloth must be rinsed in running water two times a day and placed in the baking soda solution. 

High concentration of SO2 outdoors 

If people must stay outdoors during a high concentration of SO2 that causes respiratory difficulties, it is helpful to hold a damp cloth to your mouth and nose as this will reduce the amount of SO2 in the air you inhale. A cloth soaked in a baking soda solution, as described above, is still more effective, however. Please note that water makes the cloth less permeable so that breathing through it is more difficult. This can prove difficult or even dangerous for weak individuals. 

You can also use a traditional dust mask that can be obtained in hardware stores and soak it in baking soda solution. Dust masks, however, are so impermeable that the added water increases their resistance and makes them hard to breathe through. The mask must therefore be fully dried before use, which takes about 24 hours. 

ATTENTION: Damp cloths and dust masks that have been soaked in baking soda solution only work for a short while (several minutes) and are not nearly as effective as gas masks. This is therefore not a long lasting measure and cannot at all be used very close to the eruption site. In that area, the use of gas masks is the only effective way of reducing SO2 in inhaled air. Gas masks, however, are not widely available and their use is not advised unless in circumstances where the SO2 concentration is very high as in the proximity of an eruption site, and according to official recommendations. 

The Chief Epidemiologist for Iceland, the Environmental Agency, the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health and the Civil Protection. October 2014.


Question: I am supposed to be in Seyðisfjörður from September 13th (tomorrow) to 15th to hike some or the mountains there. I know there is an air quality advisory for no physical activity outdoors in a nearby fjord. Should I be concerned about the air quality in Seyðisfjörður and hiking? Would it be advised to not follow through with these plans?

Answer: We cannot not recommend difficult hiking in this area at this time because hiking causes you to inhale heavily. Short walks are fine if the air quality is good, but longer walks are not wise since the situation can change very quickly. It´s also neccessary to be close to transportation or shelter when the level of pollution gets high and you might experience symptoms. Pollution predictions are posted on the engilsh website of the Icelandic Met Office. Also you can get the latest news at the website of RUV, the National Broadcasting Service of Iceland. Air Quality Measurements in Iceland (blue buttons).

Question: Are there any predictions about the sulfur pollution for the next days? Can we follow the situation on the internet? 

Answer: We don´t have any new information at this moment but allt predictions are posted on the engilsh website of the Icelandic Met Also you can get the latest news at the website of RUV, the National Broadcasting Service of Iceland and on-line data about air pollutionat the EA website.

HvaleyrarholtHVALEYRARH_PM10_AV10MINSvifryk18 µg/m³1HvaleyrarholtHVALEYRARH_H2S_AV10MINBrennisteinsvetni-1 µg/m³1HvaleyrarholtHVALEYRARH_SO2_AV10MINBrennisteinsdíoxíð-0 µg/m³1