Croatia, or more officially known as the Republic of Croatia, is a country located on the boundaries of both central and southeastern Europe, making it a crossroads of sort between the two regions. It shares borders with countries such as Hungary, Slovenia, Serbia and even a maritime border with Italy. It is a country that has a high ranking on the human development index, a measure of different factors such as health, education and national income to gain an understanding of the overall quality of life.
Croatia also has a significant economy, with agriculture, the industrial sector and the service industry taking the lead in this aspect. Tourism also plays a significant role, with Croatia being among one of the top twenty most desirable tourist destinations worldwide, and as such would also see a large amount of gross national income from that, as well as contributions to rising air pollution levels. In general, as the movement of people increases, so too does the subsequent use of vehicles, which in turn raises the pollution levels, causing the atmosphere to become permeated with smoke, haze and a number of other pollutants and chemical compounds that will be discussed in more detail shortly.
In 2019, Croatia came in with a PM2.5 reading of 19.09 μg/m³, a number that placed it into the ‘moderate’ pollutions rating bracket for its yearly average. The moderate pollution bracket requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³ to be classed as such, and although it is not an overtly bad rating by any means, it must be noted that any reading above the world health organizations (WHO's) target goal of 10 μg/m³ or less for the best possibly quality of air (with the closer the number is to 0 of course being the most optimal) has the chance to cause adverse effects in people who are exposed to these levels of pollution.
As such, certain demographics such as the elderly, young children, those with compromised immune systems or preexisting health or respiratory conditions may be more at risk, particularly when there are other factors at play, such as proximity to high pollution zones like busy roads or industrial areas. These are all factors that must be considered when examining the air quality level in any country and the risk it poses to the citizens, as well as any travelers heading there.
In terms of its numbers, the PM2.5 reading of 19.09 μg/m³ that Croatia presented with was enough to place it in 51st place out of all countries ranked worldwide, coming in just behind other countries such as Malaysia and Mexico (with readings of 19.36 μg/m³ and 20.02 μg/m³ respectively). PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, and due to its incredibly small size, is of significant danger to human health when respired.
As such it is used as a major component in the calculation of the overall levels of air quality, alongside other pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) or ozone (O3). It can reach even smaller sizes, going down to widths of 0.001 microns or less across, and due to its prevalence and effect on human health, will be used to gauge the pollution levels and their effects on human health in Croatia throughout this article.
In finishing, Croatia has many cities with a very respectable quality of air, but also comes in with a ranking that is unusually high when compared to many of its western European counterparts. As such, the air quality levels in Croatia could certainly be improved in the coming years, to reach a level of cleanliness to match with its high human development index ranking and quality of life.
A country such as Croatia would have many different sources of pollution, with different elements of both old and new sources coming together to compound each other, as well as meteorological conditions worsening the situation further, as generally the pollution levels tend to increase in the colder months, a phenomenon that is seen not only in Croatia but many other countries that have a distinct winter season.
As the temperature drops, conversely the energy consumption level rises to meet the increased demand of heating for both homes and businesses, something that causes factories and power plants to increase the amount of coal or other fuels to provide the aforementioned energy. This in turn releases large amounts of pollution related to the combustion of these materials, as well as dangerous forms of fine particulate matter.
This is one of the sources of pollution that would afflict Croatia, more prominently during the winter months, although due to its large industry, there would be factories that would be putting out large volumes of pollutants year round, releasing both the fumes related to the combustion of fossil fuels, as well as novel chemicals related to whatever item or industrial material is being produced.
As an example, any factories that deal in plastic goods, plastic casing or packaging, will inevitably leak some form of industrial effluence containing burnt plastic fumes. This applies to other industrial items as well, many of which can lead to dangerous compounds and even toxic metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury being released into the atmosphere, as well as the groundwater and food chain.
Other sources of pollution that would contribute to the year round ambient readings of PM2.5 would include the ever present use of vehicles. These are a constant elevator of pollution levels round the world, from the busiest cities to even the most remote islands. Cars and other personal vehicles such as motorbikes can put out large volumes of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), with nitrogen dioxide being the chief culprit when it comes to vehicular emissions. It is usually found in large concentrations in any area that sees a high volume of traffic. There is such a prominent link that the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air can be used to directly correlate how much pollution is being caused by vehicles alone.
So, in closing, these are the two main sources of pollution in Croatia. There are many other minor forms that also contribute, such as the building of infrastructure, construction sites and road repairs all adding to pollution levels as well as fine particulate matter in the air. During the colder months, many homes in rural areas or those built using traditional heating and cooking stoves and fireplaces built into them will go through large amounts of wood and charcoal, both of which can release a plethora of their own chemicals into the air, contributing even further to the pollution levels seen in the yearly average, as well as in the various cities registered across Croatia.
Observing the data taken over the course of 2019, across the various cities registered in Croatia, there emerges a pattern of when the air quality is at its worst, and also when it starts to improve and show better levels. Whilst there is not as much of a distinct pattern as other countries when it comes to clear cut periods of low and high levels of pollution, it can still be seen that the highest levels of pollution are taken at the very beginning and end of the year, corresponding directly with the winter months, as mentioned before, due to the impact the cold weather has on the overall level of air quality.
To use a more polluted city as an example, Slavonski Brod will be referenced. In October a significant decline in its air quality levels was seen, going up to 15.6 μg/m³, a leap of almost double when compared to Septembers reading of 9.5 μg/m³. From here on out it continued to rise, with a reading of 21.3 μg/m³ being taken and November, before an even worse reading of 49.8 μg/m³ was taken in December. This was the most polluted month of the year for not only the city of Slavonski Brod but also the entire country. This continued on into the early months of the following year, with elevated pollution levels all being shown until the month of May, when it started to abate and the more appreciable readings started to show.
The second most polluted city in Croatia, Lug, also followed a similar pattern, with a reading of 16.3 μg/m³ in September rapidly climbing to 38.5 μg/m³ in the following month. This reading, along with the 49.8 μg/m³ taken in Slavonski Brod in December 2019, put the air quality rating into the ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ bracket, which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 35.5 to 55.4 μg/m³ for classification. As the name implies, the air quality during this time is of great detriment to vulnerable portions of the population, and can cause an unfortunate spike in deaths amongst the elderly, as well as lifelong damage to younger members of the population, with allergies arising, as well as permanent changes to pulmonary system and well as the nervous system all being possible.
There are many other cities that follow this example, so in closing, the air quality starts to show a clear decline in correlation with the winter months, with PM2.5 levels rising in October and staying elevated until April or May of the following year.
With data available from the last few years, some comparisons can be made as to whether Croatia has improved its overall air quality. In 2018, Croatia came in with a yearly average PM2.5 reading of 22.18 μg/m³, which shows that its 2019 reading of 19.09 μg/m³ showed a fairly respectable improvement. The issue regarding yearly changes is to whether or not they represent an actual positive change in pollution saturation in the air, or they are just fluctuations that move up and down between the years. For the best and most critical comparison, the years of 2020 and beyond will need to be compiled and their averages calculated to see if the trend for Croatia's improving air quality is a genuine step in the right direction.
Regardless of the long term causality, as it currently stands, any improvement in levels of air pollution is a positive step in the right direction, so it can be said that Croatia has improved on its air quality in recent times, with the following years post 2020 being the true indicators of whether this remains true.
As a direct contrast to the previous question, as it was stated, the pollution levels decline at the end of the year and remain this way until April or May of the following year. So, to directly oppose the most polluted months, the time period between May and September is when Croatia sees its best and cleanest quality of air across all its cities, free from the haze, fumes, smoke and other pollutants that would otherwise be contaminating its atmosphere.
To use the most polluted city of Slavonski Brod as an example again, in the month of April, the PM2.5 reading came in at 20.4 μg/m³. This was directly followed in May by a vastly improved reading of 11.1 μg/m³, a number that was nearly half of the previous month, representing a fairly significant drop. This period lasted until September, when its cleanest yearly reading was taken, coming in within the WHO's target goal of 10 μg/m³ or less, with a PM2.5 number of 9.5 μg/m³.
To use another city as an example of this pattern being demonstrated, the city of Desinic Gora sums this up very aptly. In March its PM2.5 reading was 21.8 μg/m³, followed immediately by a reading of 10 μg/m³ in April, a drop of more than half and a direct move from the ‘moderate’ pollution bracket to the WHO's target group. From here on out till October, all of the readings came in with very respectable numbers, with five months out of the year coming in within the WHO's target goal. So, as demonstrated by the numbers on record, the months of April through to September are when Croatia sees its best quality of air.