What is the air quality in Slovakia?
Three major factors affect the air we breathe:
- Emissions (pollutants) released into the atmosphere from the industry, households, the transport, etc.
- Dispersion factors determined by meteorological conditions (e.g. wind, temperature inversion) and orographic features (basins, lowlands...)
- Long-range transboundary air pollution - transmission of air pollutants released at a place other than the place where the pollution occurs
What we breathe we can determine by monitoring the air quality. This concerns the measurement of key pollutants at air quality monitoring stations. In Slovakia, the Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute conducts the monitoring of the following pollutants: SO2, NOx, PM10, PM2.5, CO, O3, benzene, heavy metals and benzo(a)pyrene.
The monitoring data are validated and compared with the limit/target values for the protection of human health, which are different for each pollutant. These values represent the air quality standards set by the EU legislation as minimum requirements for air quality that do not pose a health risk.
At present we have observed that particulate matter with the size of 10 µm (PM10), ozone, benzo(a)pyrene and nitrogen oxides had exceeded their limit/target values. Especially in the winter months there are smog situations, i.e. the occurrence of air pollution levels that pose an increased risk to human health.
What do we do to improve the air quality?
There are areas in Slovakia, where the air quality is deteriorated to such an extent (the measured concentration of air pollutants exceeds the limit/target value for the protection of human health) that a special air quality management regime has to be applied. Such areas are called Air Quality Management Areas and there are currently 12 in Slovakia. It is in the public interest to change the unfavourable condition in these areas by adopting Air Quality Management Plans. Such plan is devised for each zone, in which the Air Quality Management Area is located and includes list of measures for achieving and maintaining the air quality standards in the shortest possible time in the particular area.
If the territory is expected to be proving a serious short-term air quality deterioration, the district office at the seat of a Region will devise an Air Quality Action Plan. Smog alert system is used to warn the public against increased air pollution levels.
The LIFE-IP SK Air Quality Improvement project aims to contribute to the improvement of air quality in Slovakia with measures to reduce concentrations of air pollutants PM10, PM2,5 benzo(a)pyrene and NOx, which are particularly produced by household heating and the transport. One of these measures is creation of a national network of Air Quality Managers.
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In the past, the air pollution in Slovakia was mainly attributed to industrial activity. By regulation adopted at both European and national levels, emissions from the industry are already highly limited.
Today, the largest share of emissions of particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) as well as carcinogenic benzo(a)pyrene comes from solid fuel combustion in households. Coal and biomass combustion (especially green wood) also play their part. The problem with air quality is noticeable in the countryside. Villages covered in dense smoke during winter bear the evidence. In many cases, these villages are situated in pristine nature, away from the industry and busy traffic arteries, and have exceptionally good air quality off the heating season.
There are several reasons why pollution occurs in such places:
- Heating with old-type boilers with higher emissions
- Improper heating technique
- Incineration of waste or low-quality fuels
An effective solution to improve this situation is to replace high-emission boilers for low-emission or emission-free heating devices utilizing the government incentives:
- Boiler Grant – financial support for replacement of old solid-fuel boilers for low-emission systems
- Green Light to the Households’ Grant – financial support for the use of renewable energy sources in households (heat pumps, solar panels, photovoltaic cells, biomass boilers)
Air pollution caused by improper heating can be also attributed to lack of awareness, therefore it is necessary to raise environmental awareness of the public.
In large cities in Slovakia, transport plays a significant role in air pollution. Motor vehicles pollute the atmosphere mainly with nitrogen oxides, fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone precursors. Out - dated fleet, high levels of passenger traffic as well as transit traffic are a frequent cause of such pollution. Measures that could help improve the air quality in cities are:
- Support of public transport and the related construction of overflow car parks on the outskirts of individual cities
- Integrated public transport
- Car fleet modernization
- Divert transiting traffic away from cities, goods redistribution from car freight transport to rail
- Cycling infrastructure development in cities not only for the purpose of relaxation, but also travel to work, local delivery of goods, etc.
Air pollution has negative impact on human health and ecosystems
A person inhales about 20 m3 of air per day, which is approximately 500,000 m3 during a lifetime. The amount of air consumed increases significantly during intense physical activity. Although air is essential for living beings, many people do not associate air pollution with the quality of their health.
Healthcare workers, however, point out that the air pollution is currently one of the major factors affecting the health of the human population. Long-term exposure to pollutants leads to severe consequences ranging from respiratory system failure, cardiovascular disease, cognitive disorders to premature death. The European Environment Agency states that exposure to air pollution annually causes about 400,000 premature deaths in Europe. In Slovakia, approximately 5,000 people die prematurely each year.
Respiratory system failure