Environment group challenges ministry moves to tackle air pollution in Ostrava

Ostrava, photo: František Tichý, ČRo

The Czech Republic’s third biggest city, Ostrava, and the surrounding area has the sad reputation as one of the worst air pollution sites in the whole of Europe. The Czech government has promised improvements to remedy a smog that is a feature every winter but those steps are simply not clear or ambitious enough according to a local environment organization which has now taken legal action.

Photo: František Tichý
Clear skies is the name of the environmental organization and it has now launched legal action against the Czech Ministry of Environment arguing that its programme to counter air pollution in Ostrava and the surrounding area is hot air without any real commitments or goals that would really bring the city’s air pollution problem within reasonable bounds.

Limits on so-called particulate matter that are believed to damage lungs or the cancer causing benzopyrene regularly exceeded several fold in the city and region. Anna Plošková is director of the organization and had this to say about the ministry’s plan.

“Mainly for the agglomeration of Ostrava, Karvina, Frydek-Mistek, it focuses on transportation and household heating but we guess that in a region such as our region, that is really polluted by heavy industry we need to have special steps taken for factories.”

Plošková says that for most air pollution around two-thirds comes from industry, around 30 percent from heating, and the rest from transport. But both the central government and regional government are not keen to put extra burdens on industry in the country’s steel and engineering heartland where many companies are under pressure over costs and facing difficult competitive conditions.

The court challenge lodged at the start of July could bring a verdict within around 90 days. Plošková hopes that the right decision could result in a more meaningful action plan to get to grips with air pollution.

Anna Plošková,  photo: archive of Čisté nebe
“The reason that we are doing it is that we think that if the court cancels the programme of air quality, then the Ministry of Environment can make a better plan – a better plan that will have specific actions and steps that will lead to better air quality and emission limits that will be fulfilled.”

As well as the latest action by the environmental group, a series of individual court actions for psychological and physical damages have been undertaken by three or four local Czechs. The verdicts there are expected in August. And the result could be awards of compensation which the environment group hopes could spark a wave of similar actions against the state.

The Czech government’s action on air pollution is also being tracked from further afield by the European Commission in Brussels. It has warned Prague once already in 2005 that it was failing to live up to commitments to guarantee citizen’s health and environment with a supplementary and stronger warning following last year. The final step against the Czech government could be a court decision against it and fines.