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Air pollution

Air pollution significantly affects human health, causing many illnesses of the respiratory and circulatory systems. The greatest impact of air pollution on human and animal health is observed in industrial and urban areas. The most vulnerable groups include: children, elderly people and people with respiratory system diseases. Polluted air has also negative impact on the condition of ecosystems and destruction of materials (such as corrosion of metals).

 

Air quality status should be maintained where it is already good, or improved, where the objectives for ambient air quality are not met.

In order to protect human health and the environment as a whole, it is particularly important to combat emissions of pollutants at source and to identify and implement the most effective emission reduction measures at local, national and Community level.

in: Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of
21 May 2008 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe

 

Due to the adverse impacts of air pollutants on human health and the condition of ecosystems, there is carried out an annual air quality assessment in terms of its pollution with sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, benzene and ozone, as well as PM10 particulate matter and pollutants identified in the PM10 particulate matter: lead, arsenic, cadmium, nickel and benzo(a)pyrene.

Despite systematic improvement of ambient air quality in Poland, there still exist significant problems: in summer – too high concentration of tropospheric ozone, and in winter – excessive concentrations of PM10 particulate matter and benzo(a)pyrene.

Ozone is a strong photochemical oxidiser, which causes serious health problems, destroys materials and crops. Exposure of humans to a slightly increased ozone concentration may lead to an inflammatory response of the eyes, the respiratory tract, as well as decreasing lung capacity. It is the reason for the occurrence of the symptoms of sleepiness, headache and fatigue, as well as it causes a fall in blood pleasure. At higher concentrations, there occur the symptoms of malaise, headaches intensify, excitability, fatigue and exhaustion increase, the symptoms of apathy appear.

Tropospheric ozone is created as a result of photochemical reactions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds and has the ability to move over long distances, so the concentrations of that pollutant on the territory of Poland depend to a high extent on its concentrations in the air masses flowing into the territory of Poland – mainly from southern and south-western Europe. The other causes of the occurrence of high 8-hour concentrations of ozone, exceeding the level of 120 μg/m3, are believed to include:

  • photochemical changes of ozone precursors under the influence of UV-B radiation,
  • adverse meteorological conditions,
  • natural emission sources of ozone precursors.

 

Maximum 8-hour concentration is the basis for classification of zones in the annual air quality assessment in terms of ozone concentration. The past results of ambient air ozone measurements indicate that the number of days with exceedance of the target value  is variable. Interestingly, the number of days with exceedance of the target value  in 2008 was one of the lowest in the last decade (Fig. 5.1.1.).

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Fig. 5.1.1. Arithmetic mean of days with 8-hour concentrations of ozone higher than 120 μg/m3 in the years 1998-2008 (source: CIEP/SEM)


Of the 28 zones assessed in Poland for ozone in 2008 in terms of health protection, 18 zones (ca. 64% of the area of the country) were included in class A. The other 10 zones were classified as C[14]. Class C included zones located in south-western and central Poland (Fig. 5.1.2.).

Fig. 5.1.2. Classification of zones in Poland for ozone on the basis of  air quality assessment for 2008 (target value, human health protection) (source: CIEP/SEM)


In recent years, exceedances of the maximum 8-hour ozone concentrations have taken place in most areas in Europe (Fig. 5.1.3.).

Fig. 5.1.3. Classification of zones in the EU for maximum 8-hour ozone concentrations with reference to human health protection for 2007 (source: EEA)


In 2007, the value of the “Urban population exposure to air pollution by ozone”  indicator  in Poland (Fig. 5.1.4.) was close to the average value of that indicator for 27 states of the European Union.

Fig. 5.1.4. Population exposure indicator SOMO35 based on monitoring results from urban background stations in EU agglomerations in 2007 (source: Eurostat, based on SEM data submitted to the AirBase)


The indicator of urban population exposure to air pollution by ozone  in Poland was characterised by lack of a clear downwards trend in the years 1999-2007. Interestingly, the lowest value of that indicator in the period under analysis was observed in 2004 (Fig. 5.1.5.).

It should be remembered that the values of ozone concentrations at ground level – thus the value of the exposure indicator  – are  significantly influenced, beside the emission of ozone precursors, by meteorological conditions: high air temperature, high insolation and lack of precipitation.

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Fig. 5.1.5. Population exposure indicator SOMO35 based on monitoring results from urban background stations  in agglomerations in Poland in the years 1999-2007 (source: Eurostat, based on data of the SEM submitted to the AirBase)


The impact of small (PM10) and very small (PM2.5) particles on health depends on the number of particles retained in various areas in the respiratory system. However, PM2.5  has the ability to penetrate into the deepest sections of the lungs, where they are  accumulated or dissolved in biological liquids. As a result, they cause: aggravation of asthma, acute respiratory responses, impairment of the lung activity, etc.

Particulate matter – in which a fraction of particles with a diameter less than  10 μm (PM10) is differentiated, which includes a fraction with  a diameter of less than 2.5 μm (PM2.5) – is a mixture of very small solid and liquid particles, composed of both organic and inorganic compounds (e.g. hydrocarbons, silicon compounds, aluminium, iron, trace metals, sulphates, nitrates and ammonium compounds). The composition of particulate matter changes depending on the origin, season and weather conditions.

Particulate matter (including fine particles) come from direct emissions – mainly from municipal and household sources – or are created in the atmosphere as a result of reactions between substances in the atmosphere. Precursors of the latter (the so-called secondary aerosols) include in particular: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), hydrocarbons (NMVOCs) and ammonia (NH3).

Despite the recorded reduction in emissions of precursors of particulate matter and the actions undertaken to reduce the concentrations of  particulate matter in ambient air, in particular the smallest fractions, exceedances of the standards for PM10  remain the key problem of air quality in Poland. The exceedances take place both in terms of the daily standard and the annual standard and pertain in particular to downtown  areas of  cities and agglomerations.

Exceedances of the  daily limit value of PM10 concentrations usually take place in the winter season. In all voivodeships, exceedances are most often related to the emission of particulate matter from heating of individual buildings and transport. Further sources include the impact of emissions from industrial plants, heating plants, power plants and unfavourable meteorological conditions. In this respect, 2006 was marked as a very unfortunate  year, when several high-pressure systems occurred in the winter period, characterised by very low temperatures, which were accompanied by long periods of stillness and the phenomenon of inversion.

The location of  some Polish cities   has a significant impact on  air pollution with respect to PM10 particulate matter, such as location in mountain valleys or river depressions, which hinders dispersion of pollutants, as well as concentration of industry in agglomerations or in their direct vicinity (e.g. the Cracow or Upper Silesian agglomerations).

In the  annual air quality assessment for 2008 in terms of PM10 particulate matter, of 170 zones covered by assessment, 105 zones (ca. 62%) were classified into class A and 65 zones (38% zones) into class C[16] based on 24-hour concentrations (Fig. 5.1.6.).

Fig. 5.1.6. Classes of zones determined on the basis of 24-hour concentrations of PM10 particulate matter as a result of ambient air quality assessment for 2008 (according to criteria pertinent to human health protection) (source: CIEP/SEM)


The issue  of exceedances of 24-hour concentrations of PM10 particulate matter exists not only in Poland, but also in other European countries (Fig. 5.1.7.).

Fig. 5.1.7. Classification of zones in the EU for exceedances of 24-hour PM10 particulate matter concentrations in 2007 (source: EEA)


Based on average annual PM10 concentrations in 2008, 150 zones were classified into class A (ca. 88% of all zones) and 20 zones (ca. 12%) - to class C.

The number of zones classified into class C as a result of the assessment for 2008 based on 24-hour concentrations of particulate matter is more than three times higher than the number of zones obtained on the basis of average annual concentrations. Similar proportions were also recorded in the previous years. They are a result of problems with meeting the strict standard for 24-hour PM10 concentrations.

In the years 2001-2008, PM10 measurement results from selected sampling points in agglomerations showed decreases and increases in annual mean concentrations . From 2004 to 2006, at most of the considered stations, an upwards trend for PM10 concentrations was recorded. In 2006, the annual average concentration at the considered stations were the highest in the period under analysis. High concentration of particulate matter in 2006 was , however, connected to very unfavourable meteorological conditions in the winter season that year. In 2007, annual mean concentration of PM10 was significantly lower than in the previous year. Falls in the annual mean concentrations occurred at all stations covered by the analysis. Lower concentrations in 2007 were the result of better meteorological conditions in the cool season of 2007 in relation to the previous year. In January and February 2007, there took place no significant falls in air temperature (stimulating emission of particulate matter related to heating) as in January 2006, nor did there occur long-lasting inversion conditions contributing to accumulation of pollutants at the ground-level. In 2008, annual average PM10 particulate matter concentrations were close to the values from the previous year at most analysed stations, while the greatest fall was recorded at the station in Gdańsk (Fig. 5.1.8).

Fig. 5.1.8. Annual mean concentration of PM10 particulate matter in the years 2001-2008 at selected stations in agglomerations in Poland (source: CIEP/SEM)


Analyses of the EU indicator: “Urban  population exposure to air pollution by particles based on annual mean concentration of PM10 particulate matter demonstrated that the share of population exposed in Poland exceeded the European average in 2007 (Fig. 5.1.9.).

Fig. 5.1.9. Indicator: Urban population exposure to air pollution by particles  calculated as annual  mean concentration of PM10 particulate matter at urban background locations in agglomerations of the EU in 2007 (source: Eurostat, based on SEM data submitted to the AirBase)


The indicator of population exposure to PM10 particulate matter at urban background stations in Polish agglomerations over the years 1999-2007 reached the lowest value for 2007 (Fig. 5.1.10.).

Fig. 5.1.10. Indicator: Urban  population exposure to air pollution by particles calculated as population weighed annual  mean concentration of PM10 particular matter measured at urban background stations  in agglomerations in Poland in the years 1999-2007 (source: Eurostat, based on SEM data submitted to the AirBase)


Air pollutants important for their negative health effects include also compounds from the group of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Scientific evidence shows that the compounds have cancerous and mutagenic properties. Benzo(a)pyrene identified in PM10 particulate matter  is used as an indicator for PAHs in the air quality assessment.

Ambient air quality assessment for 2008 in terms of benzo(a)pyrene demonstrated that, of the 170 zones covered by assessment, 94 were classified in class A (about 55% of all zones). As many as 76 zones (almost 45%) were classified into class C. All zones in the following voivodeships were assigned to that class: Mazowieckie and Śląskie and most of zones in the Małopolskie, Podkarpackie and Kujawsko-Pomorskie voivodeships. Such a high number of zones classified into class C is related to very low and hard to meet  target value determined for benzo(a)pyrene and household fuel use patterns (Fig. 5.1.11.).

 

Fig. 5.1.11. Classification of zones in Poland for benzo(a)pyrene on the basis of annual ambient air quality assessment for 2008 (human health protection) (source: CIEP/SEM)


What is an important indicator of the degree of pollution of ambient air is the quality of precipitation, which is one of the meteorological elements gathering and transporting pollutants, thus affecting ecosystems by the processes of eutrophication and acidifiaction of soil and water. The processes, are related to the presence of such substances in the air as: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia and their deposition to the ground.

Precipitation is the source of minerals coming not only directly from the atmosphere, but also rinsed from the surface of plants and other objects. It must be borne in mind though that concentrations of particular substances depend on many factors, such as: duration of precipitation, intensity of precipitation or the duration of precipitation-free period preceding precipitation.

Results of the study on chemical composition  precipitation and deposition of pollutants to the ground in Poland, carried out over the last 10 years, reveal gradual diminishing of the deposition of some pollutants to the ground. The process is perceptible in relation to the deposition of sulphates. At the same time, in the case of pollutants causing eutrophication, lack of such a tendency should be noted (Fig. 5.1.12.).

The recorded downwards trend in acidification of precipitation, expressed by the growth of the pH value of precipitation, is an effect of gradual reduction of emission of acidifying pollutants to the atmosphere at the scale of the continent, which leads to gradual lowering of the concentrations of those pollutants in the atmosphere (Fig. 5.1.13.).

Fig. 5.1.12. Deposition of substances introduced with precipitation to the area of Poland in the years 2000-2008 against the average annual precipitation (source: CIEP/SEM)



Fig. 5.1.13. Annual average pH of precipitation in Poland for background measurement stations against the emission volumes of SO2, NOx, NH3 in the years 1998-2008 (source: ME and CIEP/SEM)


The state of ambient air in Poland depends mostly on the values and spatial distribution of emissions from fixed and mobile sources, after consideration of transboundary  flows and physical and chemical transformations taking place in the atmosphere. The processes affect both the formation of the so-called pollution background, which is the result of establishment of dynamic balance at a greater distance from the emission sources, as well as the occurrence of increased concentrations in the area under direct impact of emitters.

In the 1990s and in the first years of the 21st century, there was recorded a gradual fall in emissions of all basic air pollutants in Poland, in particular the emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides dropped significantly. The decrease was highly related to the restructuring or modernisation of the energy and industrial sectors and an improvement in the quality of coal.

Since 2003, emissions of most of pollutants have remained at a similar level or, as in the case of sulphur dioxide, the emissions have been becoming smaller and smaller from year to year, but the fall has not been as significant as in the 1990s (Fig. 5.1.14.).

Fig. 5.1.14. Emission volumes of SO2, NOx, NH3 against national emission  limits of the substances stated in the Treaty of Accession of the Republic of Poland to the European Union, in the scope of directive 2001/81/EC on national emission ceilings for certain atmospheric pollutants (source: ME)


The structure of emissions of pollutants in Poland is a derivative of the structure of use and quality of fuels. These factors determine the degree of air pollution. What influences the volume of emissions are the production processes in the energy sector and fuel use patterns in the municipal-housing sector (Fig. 5.1.15. and 5.1.16.).

Fig. 5.1.15. Emissions of major pollutants  by sector: Poland 2007 (source: ME)


Fig. 5.1.16. Emissions of primary particulate matter PM10 by sector: Poland 2000-2007 (source: ME)


What is the main cause of emission of gases and particles to the atmosphere is the lack of significant changes in the patterns of use of energy carriers in Poland. Hard coal still remains the basic primary energy carrier in the Polish economy (51% of non-renewable energy) (Fig. 5.1.17.).

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Fig. 5.1.17. Use of primary energy carriers in Poland in 2007 (source: ME)


It is a well-known fact that, to ensure protection of ambient air against excessive pollution, measures concerning rational modification of at least those production processes which produce the most burdensome pollutants are necessary.

To protect human health and protect vegetation, there have been established in Poland numerous instruments to reduce emissions of pollutants to ambient air which are to help achieve good air quality. The most important of them are: permits for introduction of gases and particles  to ambient air, integrated permits, standards for emission from installations, fuel quality standards. Furthermore, the share of energy from renewable sources in the total energy production is being gradually increased and the energy-consumption of the Polish economy is being decreased (Fig. 3.6.).

Considering the current state of air pollution in Poland and the necessity to meet ambient air quality standards established in the Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, Poland is facing the task of implementation of many measures aimed at ambient air quality improvement. The basic regulation of the Directive is the introduction of new air quality standards concerning fine particles (PM2.5) in ambient air and verification and consolidation of existing EU acts in the scope of air protection. It also introduces new mechanisms concerning air quality management in zones and agglomerations.

It is worth emphasising that the systematic development of the Polish economy in the period of the last two decades, expressed by the growth of the GDP, does not lead to increased air emissions of pollutants. It is an effect of more common application of pro-environmental technologies in the industry, the energy and transport sectors (Fig. 5.1.18.).

Fig. 5.1.18. Changes in the emission of the basic gaseous air pollutants against changes in the GDP in Poland in the years 1998-2008 with the assumption that the emission volumes in 1998 = 100 % (source: ME/CSO)


During the last decade, the number of vehicles in Poland rose by ca. 6.5 million, which, however, did not find expression in increased emissions of pollutants from that sector (Fig. 5.1.19.). It is caused by gradual increase in the share of passenger cars and lorries meeting the EURO standards. However,  it must  be borne in mind that the EURO standards coming into force concern new vehicles, which, due to their high technological advancement as well as good technical condition, are characterised by low levels of emission of toxic components of exhaustion fumes.

Fig. 5.1.19. Change in the emission of NOx from road transport in Poland in the years 1998-2008 in relation to the change in the number of vehicles, assuming that the volume of emissions of NOx in 1998 = 100 % (source: ME/CSO)

 


The impact of air pollutants on the environment is an especially important issue with respect to the general commonness of the phenomenon, the volumes of emitted pollutants, the wide scope of impact, as well as due to the fact that the pollutants affect other elements of the environment. The significant adverse effect of pollution of the environment on human health cannot be omitted. Taking the above into consideration, it must be stressed that to protect ambient air synergy of actions within many policies and sectors, both at a local and global scale, is necessary. It is particularly important to ensure cohesion of actions aimed at air protection with actions aimed at counteracting climate change, since not all measures contributing to climate protection lead to improvement of air quality (e.g. burning  biomass).

At a regional and local scale, implementation of air protection programmes is of great importance for air quality, and their development, pursuant to the Environmental Protection Law Act, is the responsibility of marshals of voivodeships. The programmes should contribute to permanent and systematic air quality improvement through actions undertaken under implementation of sustainable development of regions.

Taking into account the current state of air pollution in Poland and the necessity to meet air quality standards established by Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe and the limits of emissions of certain pollutants into the air  from large combustion plants, Poland is facing the task of implementation of many measures aimed at ambient air quality improvement.

 


[14] Zones are classified in accordance with the Regulation of the Minister of the Environment of 6 March 2008 on zones, in which air quality is assessed, where for class A concentration levels do not exceed the target  value, and the concentration levels exceed the target  value for class C. As regards the target  value of ozone concentration:

  • the period of averaging of concentrations amounts to 8 hours (eight-hour running  averages  are calculated from 1-hour concentrations),
  • the target value in ambient air is 120 μg/m3,
  • the permissible number of days with exceedance of the target value  in a calendar year is 25 days (the number of days with exceedance of the target value  in a calendar year averaged during three subsequent years; in the case of lack of measurement data from three years, meeting the permissible frequency of exceedances is verified on the basis of measurement data from at least one year).

 

[16] Zones in Poland are classified in accordance with the Regulation of the Minister of the Environment of 6 March 2008 on zones, in which air quality is assessed, where for class A concentration  do not exceed the limit value, and the concentration  exceed the limit value for class C. For averaging period amounting to:

  • 24 hours – the limit value  for PM10 particulate matter in ambient air amounts to 50 μg/m3, which can be exceeded up to 35 days  in a calendar year,
  • calendar year – limit value  for concentration of PM10 particulate matter in ambient air is 40 μg/m3.

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