Noise, air pollution from dense traffic causing serious environmental headache

Prague is rapidly becoming one of Europe's most congested cities - the winding streets of the Czech capital are clogged with cars and lorries, and a six-lane motorway leads right through the city centre. Car ownership in Prague has leapt over the last decade to one car per every two inhabitants - putting the Czech capital on the same level as Vienna, a bigger city with better roads. And as Rob Cameron reports, noise and air pollution from the millions of cars are beginning to take their toll on public health.

I'm standing behind the National Museum at the top of Wenceslas Square - either side of the Museum are three lanes of heavy traffic speeding right through the centre of Prague, the main artery carrying traffic through the city, south towards Brno and Austria and north to Dresden and Germany. The noise is incredible, and one can only wonder what it must be like for people living in the flats just a few metres away.

Not all of Prague is like this of course, but the fact is that noise pollution is now one of the major environmental problems facing the people of Prague and other towns and cities across the Czech Republic. During the Communist era the biggest threat to the environment was air pollution from the country's heavy industry, such as steelworks and petrochemicals, as well as the effects of burning cheap brown coal from North Bohemia.

After the 1989 revolution, however, there was a rapid improvement in the quality of the country's air, as factories were forced to drastically reduce dangerous emissions and the coal industry went into a steep decline. Now the problem is noise and air pollution caused in part by the huge increase in personal car ownership - officials from the state health authority say noise and exhaust fumes from the millions of cars clogging the country's roads are contributing to a number of public health problems, including sleep disruption, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Public health officials say the Czech people are becoming increasingly aware of the effect of their living environment on their health. Children are especially at risk. And many parents are choosing to move out of central Prague altogether, to the suburbs or satellite towns on the edge of the city, where the air is cleaner and there's less noise.