The Czech Republic which is also known by the short name of Czechia is located in central Europe. It is landlocked sharing land borders with Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia. The 2020 estimated population was just over 10.5 million people. The capital city of Prague is also the largest city.
Towards the end of 2020, the air quality index placed the air quality as “Moderate” with a US AQI reading of 56. This classification follows the recommended levels as suggested by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In the world ranking for 2019, the Czech Republic ranked as 68 out of the total of 98 countries which were considered.
In 2019 the capital city of Prague recorded a PM2.5 concentration of 11.5 µg/m³, which classified it as having “Good” air quality. For 5 months of the year, it achieved the WHO target level of 10 µg/m³ or less. During March and October, the level was recorded as “Good” with figures of between 10 and 12 µg/m³. For the remaining 5 months, the level was classed as “Moderate” with figures between 12.1 and 35.4 µg/m³.
National statistics regarding air quality estimated an annual loss of life in 2008 was 118,200 which equates to every adult person losing 5.3 days of their life as a result of breathing poor quality air. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that outdoor air pollution causes 1700 premature deaths annually.
The European Union has taken a number of measures to improve the problem with air pollution in the past. The 2008 Air Quality Directive set targets and goals to try to reduce air pollution. The Czech Republic has often been criticised by The European Union for exceeding the limits for a long time. The European Commission went as far as issuing a warning in 2015 stating that it would fine the Czech Republic if the situation did not show significant signs of improvement.
Historically, the Czech Republic suffered from severe air pollution prior to 1993 when the country was “born”. It concentrated on building up its industrial network with the use of cheap, poor quality coal as the source of its power. This cheap lignite coal produces an extremely high level of sulphur dioxide (SO2) which is very bad for the environment. To such an extent that even the local spruce forests began to deteriorate due to the acid rain produced from the sulphur dioxide. The emissions from the high chimneys of the power stations sent it high into the atmosphere where it is carried on the winds to countries as far away as Sweden.
Since 1989 and the introduction of new legislation, alongside the application of effective countermeasures in emission control and modernisation of energy production and industry, together with widespread gasification of local heating systems, the overall situation in air quality has improved significantly. An unparalleled reduction in sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions of some 90 per cent has been recorded, along with reductions in total suspended particles (TSP) nitrogen oxides (NOx).
The major source of PM pollutants is from households burning wood, coal or waste for heating. Followed by emissions from industry and transportation. Other pollutants which give great cause for concern include ground-level ozone (O3) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Air pollution from PM and PAH is challenging, especially in areas affected by excessive industrial activity and transportation, or in rural households with low-quality heating who rely on wood and cheap coal as their main source of energy.
Air pollution from industrial installations originates from the following: power generation, motor vehicles, metallurgy, machinery and equipment, glass and armaments amongst others. These industries have the potential to have a bad impact on air quality.
Private car ownership is relatively high with 485 cars registered for every 1000 individuals in 2010. By the end of 2013, 6,319,000 motor vehicles were registered in the Czech Republic. There is also a large percentage of diesel-powered cars as well.
In comparison to emissions of other pollutants, PM emissions are introduced into the air from many sources. In addition to sources from which these substances are discharged in a controlled manner through chimneys or exhausts from industrial sources, local heating and transport, significant amounts of PM emissions come from fugitive sources such as quarries, dust dumps and operations with dusty materials. Emissions from tyre wear, brake linings and road abrasion calculated from traffic performance are also included.
Because the Czech Republic is a member state of the European Union, it is governed by the rules and regulations regarding environmental issues. All major stationary sources of pollution are required to register all emissions and report any variations from the norm. There are monitoring stations in every industrial area.
Czech legislation has established air quality objectives for both limit and target values for different pollutants. Limit values are concentrations that must not be exceeded in a given period of time.
A great deal of money was invested in the control of emissions emitted mainly from large power plants in the Czech Republic during the 1990s. This resulted in a considerable improvement in air quality. Emissions from the main pollutants dropped extensively in the Czech Republic between 1990 and 2013.
In 2007, the Ministry of the Environment developed a National Emission Reduction Programme which is reviewed every four years. The initiative comprises of several key measures in order to contribute to an improvement in the current level of air cleanliness.
Vehicles which meet the EURO 4 standard make up the largest share of the passenger car fleet in current operation. The majority of vehicles which is approximately 2.7 million is older than 10 years. All cargo vehicles meet the current EURO legislation.
The levels of pollution emanating from the transportation section has fallen steadily since 2007. Public transport is widely available across the entire country. The Czech Republic has one of the densest rail networks in Europe and there is a very competitive bus and coach system.
Also of note is that households with an electric vehicle receive electricity at a very favourable rate.
The burning of waste in the open is illegal; therefore anyone can call the police to report any occurrence. However, such open burning is not commonly done in the Czech Republic. Open burning of biomass (such as garden clippings or leaves from trees) is also strictly controlled, some local authorities designate certain days of the month for the burning of leaves and other garden waste in private gardens.
Contributors to the poor air quality in the Czech Republic include power stations and emissions from vehicles. According to currently available data Dolní Lutyne, Karvina, Cesky Tesín, Hat’ and Havirov have the highest levels of polluted air. The most recent data shows that the annual mean concentration of the microscopic particulate PM2.5 is 16 µg/m³ which is over 50 per cent higher than the target recommended by the WHO.
Air pollution by suspended particles of the PM10 and PM2.5 fractions remains one of the main problems that need to be solved in improving the air quality of the Czech Republic. Exceeding the PM10 and PM2.5 target goals still contribute significantly to the classification of municipalities among the areas with exceeded limit values. The highest concentrations are reached in the cold months of the year when households need to heat their homes. This is related both to higher values of particulate emissions from seasonal heat sources and to worsened dispersion conditions, which are more frequent in the winter months.
The target goal for the average 24-hour concentration of PM10 which is 55 µg/m³ was exceeded in 2016 in 1.4 per cent of the Czech Republic with approximately 7.3 per cent of the population. As in previous years, the most polluted areas are in the Moravian-Silesian Region (agglomeration of Ostrava-Karviná and Frýdek-Místek).
A spokesperson for the Czech Republic’s State Energy Policy stated that coal will probably remain the country’s primary energy source for the foreseeable future, despite the increased use of natural gas and nuclear energy. However, as a member of the EU Renewables Directive, the Czech Republic’s national renewable energy action plan declared their aim of 13.5 per cent renewables from gross consumption by 2020.
The larger cities have been slowly expanding cycle lanes alongside car lanes in the city centres in the last few years. Five years ago the support for the city cycle network was virtually none. In 2015 the city cycle lanes in the five largest cities were mostly painted on the side of a road shared with other traffic. Cycle infrastructure in a sense of dedicated cycle tracks is scarce. Outside the cities, there is an extensive countrywide network of cycle trails but these are primarily for recreational purposes.
Car-free zones are almost non-existent and unbelievably cars are even allowed into the old historic areas of the city of Prague with just a few streets having limited access.
The dominant fuel used in domestic situations is natural gas and electricity with the possibility of wood being used in rural situations. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that indoor air pollution is responsible for around 400 premature deaths, annually. The most common type of indoor pollutant is PM2.5 and carbon monoxide (CO). These concentrations are considerably higher during the colder, winter months when more fuel is needed to heat the rooms.
A subsidy is offered to households who change their old equipment for newer ones which are powered by natural gas and therefore are much cleaner.
There are other pollutants suspended in the air which currently exceed the recommended target legal. These affect a large part of the population and cover most geographical regions and the concentrations of which seem to be very difficult to reduce.
During the past two decades, a number of procedures have been instigated for both significant sources and for domestic heating and transportation, thanks to which there has been a noticeable reduction in pollutant emissions in the Czech Republic. Nevertheless, many economic and social activities still produce so many emissions that, in combination with meteorological and dispersion conditions, cause air pollution target goals to be exceeded.
The good news is that the level of concentrations of most major air pollutants has had a positive downward trend in recent years, although not as pronounced as in the 1990s. However, even so, the concentrations of the above-mentioned pollutants with serious impacts on human health continue to exceed the set air pollution limits in a number of localities.
Short-term symptoms resulting from exposure to polluted air may include mildly irritating itchy eyes, nose and throat, coughing and wheezing and shortness of breath. More serious symptoms may include chest pain, headaches, nausea, and upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. It also exacerbates existing health problems such as asthma and emphysema. Longer-term effects may lead to cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory illness and some types of cancer. It can also be a major cause of heart attacks and strokes.
Poor air quality causes a number of health problems, such as diseases of the heart, blood vessels and respiratory tract. According to statistics, the long-term effects of polluted air shorten human life by up to ten months on average. It is reported that this problem annually contributes to almost four hundred thousand premature deaths in the European Union.
In recent years, lifestyle has changed significantly. People pay more attention to healthier eating, they exercise regularly and sleep more. They try to avoid stressful situations and stop smoking. All based on recommendations of the experts. However, only recently have people become more aware of the effects that poor quality air can have on the human body.