New figures show dramatic rise in air pollution with dust particles main culprit

Photo: European Commission

It improved dramatically after the fall of Communism, so why is the quality of the air suddenly getting worse? A new study carried out by the Environment Ministry's department of air protection suggests that in 2005 around two thirds of the Czech population lived in areas with serious air pollution, opposed to just a third in the previous year.

Photo: European Commission
Even the director of the air protection department, Jan Kuzel, expressed his profound shock when he saw the new figures. Stricter regulations are partly responsible for the rise, but that's only part of the story. Air quality, it seems, really has deteriorated sharply in many areas of the Czech Republic.

Improving air quality was one of the greatest achievements of the post-communist era. Gone were the smokestack factories belching out poisonous fumes, reined in by stricter regulations on industrial emissions such as sulphur and nitrogen. That played a major role in improving air quality across the Czech Republic.

What's happening now, however, is that with rising gas and electricity prices, people are turning increasingly to cheaper, less environmentally friendly methods of heating their homes. They're going back to burning coal and even rubbish. That is releasing a huge number of dust particles into the air. The consequences of this can be felt across the country, not only in big industrial cities.

Another problem is more exhaust fumes from cars, thanks to the leap in car ownership since 1989. But even the cars have got cleaner, and exhaust pollution still comes a poor second after dust.

As an EU member the Czech Republic has to meet certain norms for air quality. Last year it failed to do so, and will probably fail again this year too. The EU's strict regulations say the daily limit for microscopic dust particles must not be exceeded more than 35 times per year. In around half of the locations measured by the Environment Ministry, the limit has already been exceeded 67 times so far this year. And in industrial centres in northern Moravia, for example, the limit has already been exceeded well over 100 times.