Air pollution in Prague on a declining trend

By Olga Szantova

With the arrival of autumn, gray skies, morning fog and muggy weather it seems that the air in the city center is much worse than usual. However according to experts from the hydro-meteorological institute things aren't half as bad as they seem and statistics reveal that although the number of cars clogging the Czech capital has significantly increased over the past ten years air pollution is on a declining trend. Dr. Helena Dobiasova, head of the environmental department at the Prague City Hall, explains:

"The situation is definitely improving. And the reasons are obvious: stricter pollution norms and foreign capital which has helped finance de-sulpharization programmes and other means of reducing pollution from what we call stationary pollutants. In 1990 these so called stationary pollutants had to be heavily regulated. Now that most of them have been modernized their contribution to air pollution in the region is insignificant and only four are occasionally regulated. Our main problem is the growing number of cars but even that has improved since people are now buying better cars with catalytic converters."

Air pollution in the city center is heaviest for about two hours following the morning peak and there's a similar pattern in the evenings. Although you can actually smell the car fumes at this time of day harmful emission limits are not significantly exceeded . The rule is that if 6 out of the 13 monitoring stations in the Czech capital register exceeded limits for a period of three hours and there is a real possibility that the situation will not improve within the next eight hours a pollution crisis committee issues an alert warning, advising children and elderly people to remain indoors and asking motorists to help turn the tide and park their cars on the outskirts of the city. If the situation does not improve - either due to human effort or to the weather - then the town hall will ban cars from the city center. You might think that "alert warnings" are fairly frequent and largely ignored in the Czech capital -but the fact is that these last ditch measures are few and far between. Dr. Dobiasova again:

A ban on cars in the city centre, or some parts of it, is a truly exceptional measure. It was last ordered in 1996 and in the course of last year there were only two "alert warnings" which motorists responded to immediately. To some extent we can rely on the weather to bring about some improvement - what we need from motorists is not to make the situation worse for 24 hours or so. That usually does the trick.

According to Dr. Dobiasova the situation is Prague is now comparable to other European cities and it gets better every year. So if you watch the TV weather reports right through to the harmful emission numbers at the end don't panic. Even bad news on their scale of one to three or one to five has a long way to go to an alert warning. An alert warning would make headline news.

Author: Olga Szantová
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