Czech Republic's air quality improves as EU accession gets closer

Photo: Commission européenne

Following the recent passing in the Senate of a bill on improving air quality, the government on Wednesday approved a further plan to cut emission levels from over a hundred major polluters, to meet European criteria. Zuzana Vesela has more.

Photo: European Commission
In the 1980s, the air quality in the Czech Republic was one of the worst in Europe. The amendment passed by the Senate in January imposes new stricter standards common in the European Union. Mr Jaroslav Santroch, deputy director of the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, which is responsible for the measurement and evaluation of air pollution, believes that the Czech Republic is ready to meet these criteria.

"Air pollution in the Czech Republic improved during last fifteen years, which was caused mostly by decreasing consumption of brown coal with high content of sulphur dioxide. This was used mainly in large power plants. We can say that our current situation is comparable with other European countries. Now we have problems with emissions from traffic, emissions of sulphur dioxide and particulates."

More than 90% of cars in Prague have catalytic converters, but on the other hand the total number of cars has increased three or four times since the fall of communism. Mr Santroch explains that the Hydrometeorological Institute has an emergency plan, which has already been used twice within the last fifteen years.

"We have measuring stations in Prague to measure air pollution and based on the results we are able to stop traffic in the centre of Prague. If the measured values exceed the limits, police will close the centre and people will be informed by television, radio and other systems."

Photo: European Commission
Mr Santroch is convinced, that "Czech air" is ready to join the EU. As required, the Hydrometeorological Institute runs a register of biggest air polluters, such as factories, on the internet. The Czech pollution monitoring system is among the most modern in Europe and its upgrade has been co-financed by the European Phare program.

According to the new amendments, not only big polluters but also small entrepreneurs and farmers will have to meet the set limits. But inspection is the responsibility of local authorities. Mr Santroch is convinced that monitoring and punishing the polluters who contravene the standards will be the most difficult task for the Czech Republic. To him, asking whether polluters are prepared for these changes or not is pointless.

"We cannot discuss if we are prepared, we must act."