Slovakia is officially known as the Slovak Republic and is situated in Central Europe. It is landlocked and bordered by five other countries. A 2020 census revealed the population to be almost 5.5 million people. The capital city is Bratislava and the official language is Slovak.
In early 2021, the Air Quality Index recorded a US AQI figure of 59 which classifies it as “Moderate”, according to recommended levels by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
According to data provided by the Swiss company, IQAir.com, Slovakia recorded an average PM2.5 level of 13.6 µg/m³ in 2019. The level has not changed much within the last few years: in 2017 the recorded figure was 14.9 µg/m³ and in 2018 it was 17.2 µg/m³. During 2019, for 3 months of the year, Slovakia attained the WHO target figure of less than 10 µg/m³. During the months of March and August, the recorded figures were “Good” with levels between 10 and 12 µg/m³. The remaining 7 months saw the quality classified as “Moderate” with recorded levels between 12.1 and 35.4 µg/m³.
The results of air monitoring show that in many areas, air quality in the Slovak Republic has improved since 2005. At present, there are 12 areas of air quality management, while originally there were up to 19. Overall, their area has also decreased. Nevertheless, most EU countries, including Slovakia, have long-term air quality problems, in particular as regards limit values for fine dust which is the so-called fine dust particles PM10 and PM2.5 and nitrogen oxides (NOx), as well as the target value for benzo (a) pyrene.
Contributors to poor air quality in Slovakia include power generation, the manufacturing industry, food processing, and vehicle emissions.
The main causes of current air pollution are mainly emissions from transport, as well as high background concentrations. Combustion of coal and biomass (especially undried wood) also contributes to this. The problem of air quality is obvious in rural areas. This is evidenced by the villages themselves in the winter shrouded in thick smoke. In many cases, these are villages situated in the heart of the countryside, away from industry and busy traffic arteries, have exceptionally good air quality outside the heating season. To address air quality problems, the Slovak Republic adopted a Strategy for the reduction of PM10 in 2013.
In Slovakia, there are areas where air quality has deteriorated to such an extent (the measured concentration of a pollutant in the air exceeds the limit or target value for health protection) that it is necessary to apply a special air quality management regime. These areas are known as the areas of air quality management and there are currently 12 of them in Slovakia. It is in the public interest to change the unfavourable situation in these areas by adopting programs to improve air quality. The program is developed for each zone in which the area of air quality management is located and contains a set of measures for the sustainable achievement of good air quality in the shortest possible period of time in the area.
If it is assumed in the territory that there may be a serious short-term deterioration of air quality, the district office will draw up an action plan at the regional level. This plan represents short-term measures to reduce the risk incurred and limit its duration. A smog warning system is used to warn the population against excessive air pollution.
The LIFE IP project which deals with improving air quality aims to contribute to the improvement of air quality in Slovakia by measures to reduce the concentrations of pollutants PM10, PM2.5, benzo (a) pyrene and nitrogen dioxide, which come mainly from domestic heating and transport. One of the measures is the creation of a national network of air quality managers.
In large cities in Slovakia, transport contributes significantly to air pollution. Motor vehicles pollute the air mainly with nitrogen oxides, fine dust particles and ground-level ozone. The old vehicle fleet, the high intensity of individual traffic as well as transit traffic are a frequent cause of this pollution. Measures that could help to improve air quality in cities are the support for public transport and the related construction of car parks on the outskirts of individual transport sites. Together with integrated public transport and fleet modernisation.
The diversion of transit which means the transfer of goods from road freight to rail would help take many of the heavy-duty diesel trucks out of the city centres.
Building bicycle infrastructure in cities not only for the purpose of relaxation but also the way to work, local delivery of goods, etc.
The unsatisfactory situation with air quality in Slovakia also stems from insufficient public information. Therefore, the local authorities will actively support the rapid improvement of awareness of air quality in Slovakia and, ultimately, the reduction of the number of deaths due to its pollution.
Better education and awareness are needed and it is important for everyone to realise whether they will go to work in a car with a diesel engine or use an electric car, a bicycle, or other environmentally friendly modes of transport, whether they will use coal, low-quality wood or prefer a more environmentally friendly alternative for domestic heating. It is not only about clean air, but especially about health and lives.
Available data indicates that Velka Ida, Presov, Ruzomberok, Bystricany, and Jelsava are cities that can experience high levels of air pollution.
The Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute monitors the air in Slovakia at 38 stations. They determine the concentrations of pollutants, currently dust particles, in two fractions. "These are PM10 particles smaller than 10 micrometres, and then PM2.5. They are fine particles, it's not the dust that is normally seen on the road. Then gaseous pollutants such as ozone, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, are sampled once every 24 hours and then it is evaluated in laboratories.
The air quality monitoring department recently issued a warning against air pollution. The smog warning system works for four substances such as PM10, ozone, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Alerts are most often issued during the winter and also for PM10 smog particles.
The amount of pollution we inhale depends on many factors, such as whether we use clean energy for cooking and heating, the time of day and even the weather. Rush hour traffic is the most common source of local pollution, but emissions from vehicles can spread, moving through the air over long distances, sometimes across continents.
No one is protected from this pollution, which comes from the five main sources of human activity. These sources produce substances such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxide, ground-level ozone, particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, hydrocarbons and lead, which are all harmful to human health.
There are two main sources of air pollution from agriculture, namely livestock, which produce methane and ammonia, and the incineration of agricultural waste. Methane emissions contribute to ground-level ozone, which may cause asthma and other respiratory diseases. Methane also contributes more significantly to global warming than carbon dioxide, its impact on warming has been 34 times greater over the last 100 years. About 24 per cent of all greenhouse gases produced worldwide come from agriculture, forestry and other land use.
There are several ways to reduce air pollution from this source. People can reduce their meat consumption and eat more vegetables and fruit, or reduce food waste. Farmers, in turn, can reduce the amount of methane produced by livestock by optimising feed digestibility and improving grazing and pasture management.
The source of air pollution in households is the combustion of fossil fuels, wood and other biomass-based fuels for cooking, heating and lighting of households. Approximately 3.8 million premature deaths are caused by annual indoor air pollution, with the vast majority in developing countries.
Of the 193 countries, 97 countries have increased the percentage of households that have access to cleaner fuels to more than 85 per cent. However, 3 billion people continue to use solid fuels and open fires for cooking, heating and lighting.
Coal-fired power stations are the biggest contributors to pollution. The air is also polluted by industrial processes and the use of solvents in the chemical and mining industries. Policies and programs aimed at increasing energy efficiency and renewable production have a direct impact on a country's air quality.
Nine out of 10 people around the world breathe polluted air. Air pollution is identified as the most important health problem of our time, causing 1 in 9 deaths worldwide and an estimated 7 million premature deaths each year. In addition to respiratory diseases, air pollution is a major cause of heart attacks, lung cancer and stroke in humans. Air pollution also damages our environment, reduces the oxygen content of our oceans, restricts plant growth and contributes to climate change. But the good news is that air pollution can be prevented. Solutions are known and can be implemented.
In a European comparison, Slovakia reveals high values of PM10 and PM2.5 dust particles, and these have a significant negative impact on human health. Within the EU, Slovakia is the country with the third-highest share of the population exposed to excessive concentrations of PM2.5, which is declining only at a half rate compared to the European average. The household, trade and institutional sectors account for about 80 per cent of the generation of solid pollutants.
The main reasons are the high proportion of solid fuels, including biomass, used in households and the use of lower quality internal combustion engines in passenger transport. According to analysts, households are not economically motivated to change their behaviour and switch to cleaner fuels. Wood heating is the most economically advantageous, but not always the most environmentally friendly. Wood heating is the most emission-intensive, which in combination with combustion in obsolete boilers adversely affects air quality.
This year's smog situations should be proof. The highest number of households within family houses heating with solid fuel is located in the districts of Rimavská Sobota, Čadca and Tvrdošín, on the contrary, the lowest is in western Slovakia.
Despite tens of millions of euros from European Union funds, Slovakia exceeds the EU limits for harmful substances in the air to protect health. Funding for air quality improvement, according to a study by the Supreme Audit Office, cannot be considered effective. Recently, the results of a study were released on the effectiveness of measures to address poor air quality. Slovakia is in the group of countries that have the biggest problems with it.
The EU Environment Commissioner invited representatives of nine countries, including Slovakia, to the negotiating table. If the countries fail to convince Brussels of their efforts to protect the atmosphere, it is suing them before the EU Court of Justice.
When alerts are given the recommendations of the Public Health Office state that it is necessary to minimize outdoor movement and limit outdoor sports activities. In these cases, one breathes more "fresh air". "Activities that contribute to more dust rising should also be avoided. It is important to increase ventilation at a time when concentrations are lower. However, smog situations are not a permanent state, which means that people in the mentioned cities do not have to be afraid to open the windows wide.
Smog situations vary differently, all depending on local circumstances and weather conditions. But there are also locations that are windier. On the one hand, there are basin locations with frequent inversions and low wind speeds and then there are areas that are subject to stronger winds and they are better for the dispersal of the pollutants.