Study finds poor air quality in Moravian-Silesion region harming young children

Illustrative photo: Zdeňka Kuchyňová

A new scientific study has found that new-born babies in Moravia’s industrial north-east are significantly more prone to illness than in the rest of the country. The joint study by the Czech Institute of Experimental Medicine and the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague focuses on the notorious Karviná district, which suffers from severe smog as a result of copious coal-burning by homes and power plants, pollution from local steelworks, and proximity to a similarly industrial area of Poland.

Illustrative photo: Zdeňka Kuchyňová
The two-year study focused on comparing air quality and its impact on young children and their mothers in two cities – the first, Karviná, in the heavily industrial Moravian-Silesian region; the second, the comparatively far cleaner České Budějovice in southern Bohemia. The authors of the study discovered that young children up to six months old from Karviná were developing illnesses far more often than those in České Budějovice. They also found that disparities in health were evident in children up to two years of age.

Jiří Koželouh is the programme director at environmental NGO Hnutí duha. I asked him about the ongoing efforts to tackle the causes of air pollution in Moravia-Silesia:

“Air problem is a major health concern in this region. The main sources of pollution are small coal boilers used by households for heating and also pollution produced by industry on both sides of the Czech and Polish borders.”

One hundred mothers and new-borns took part in the study from each city. Researchers found a range of ailments more prevalent in Karviná, spanning viral infections and also breathing-related ailments. Mothers with children were also found to be visiting doctors more often in Karviná – six visits per year compared to an average of 4.4 in České Budějovice. Additionally, blood and urine samples taken from participants in Karviná were found to contain more toxic substances as a result of greater exposure to dust, benzopyrenes and other pollutants. Most alarmingly, the study also found that such exposure to high pollution levels was causing an increased prevalence of DNA mutations among children, also stunting brain development and reducing immunity levels.

Jiří Koželouh,  photo: archive of Hnutí Duha
Jiří Koželouh suggested the latest research is yet another reason for the government to push for tougher air quality legislation:

“Air pollution is a huge problem in the Czech Republic. We need UK-style climate change legislation to serve as a framework for decreasing emissions and pollution. We also need a clear plan for coal power plants and to phase them out in the Czech Republic. And we need to only support renewable sources like biomass for domestic heating.”

The authors of the study say their findings are statistically significant, with poor air quality in the Karviná district cited as the clear cause. One of the most polluted areas in all of Europe, a European Environment Agency report recently found that efforts made in recent years to improve air quality in the Moravian-Silesian region were still falling short. Overall, poor air quality causes 12,000 early deaths a year in the Czech Republic, according to the EU.