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Air pollution acute problem in Slovenia

Ljubljana, 26 February - Air pollution is one of the most burning environmental issues in Slovenia, the biggest problem being high concentrations of small particulate matter (PM), in particular in winter. The biggest single source of pollution is household fuel combustion.

Trbovlje
Air pollution major problem in Slovenia.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA
File photo

Slovenia has one of the highest rates of air pollution with coarse particulate matter, particulates with a diameter of 2.5 to 10 microns (PM10), in Europe.

As much as two thirds of all PM 10 emissions in the country are from combustion of wood in outdated household heating furnaces and stoves. Another major problem is traffic emissions.

Even though air quality has improved significantly over past decades, air pollution remains a burning environmental and health issue; it is estimated to cause 1,700 premature deaths in the country per year.

Countryside pollution grey area

Around 45% of the population is estimated to live in areas with excessive concentrations of particulates, which have health effects even at very low concentrations.

The quality of outdoor air is currently monitored at 22 spots across the country, in particular in urban municipalities. There are mostly no monitoring stations in rural areas, but this does not mean the air quality there is better.

"Given that the main source of particulates is individual solid fuel furnaces, which are most common in the countryside, we can infer that the pollution in the vicinity of houses using that kind of heating is substantial," the Environment Agency (ARSO) has told the STA.

While the state cannot secure monitoring at every location, ARSO has set up an outdoor air quality modelling that may be used to assess air quality.

PM, ozone pollution health hazards

Apart from pollution with PM10 and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), another problem is excessive levels of ozone at ground level, which is a health risk in particular in the coastal region in summer.

Formed by the reaction of pollutants with sunlight, ozone pollution in the Primorska region is blamed mainly on pollution transported from the Po Valley in Italy.

Meanwhile, doctors warn that an even bigger problem than PM10 and PM2.5 is the ultra-fine particulates (less than 0.1 microns), which penetrate deepest into the human body.

"Heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium get attached to these ultra-fine particulates, enter the body and get deposited in various organs," Marina Praprotnik of the pulmonary disease at the Ljubljana Paediatric Clinic has recently told TV Slovenija.

ARSO is in the process of acquiring an instrument that will make it possible to measure air pollution with these ultra-fine particles.

The group must vulnerable to such pollution is children because their organs and immune system are still developing, and long-term consequences do not show until years after exposure.

"Apart from asthma, long-term effects of air pollution include cardio-vascular diseases, strokes, and heart attacks, lung cancer (...) it has also been linked to various neurodegenerative conditions, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's," Praprotnik says.

Measurements have been showing the highest concentrations of PM10 in urban areas of Celje, Murska Sobota, Zagorje ob Savi, Ljubljana, Maribor, Novo Mesto and Trbovlje.

As yet incomplete data from ARSO for 2019 show that the threshold 24-hour mean concentration of PM10 particles, set at 50 micrograms per cubic metre of air, was most often exceeded in Celje.

The monitoring station at Mariborska Cesta, the main Celje thoroughfare, recorded above limit daily values 43 times. It was the only location in the country where the daily limit was exceeded more than permitted 35 times per year.

Measures afoot to improve air quality

To improve air quality, the government has adopted special plans of measures for the most polluted areas aimed at reducing emissions from heating of buildings and road traffic, and pollution warning.

The residents of those areas are eligible for higher financial incentives from the Eco Fund, which are available to all households for investment aimed at reducing energy consumption.

Tanja Bolte, the head of the Environment Directorate, says that residents can do a lot themselves to reduce PM10 pollution. "If we rightly criticise every industrial emission, we should also be critical about ourselves at home."

High PM10 concentrations are most often due to households using inappropriate fuels for heating, inappropriate combustion or outdated furnaces or water heaters.

The Eco Fund paid out EUR 300,000 in environmental subsidies last year, helping households to replace 6,048 old heaters or furnaces. The estimate is that 130,000 such furnaces or heaters should be replaced, or 10,000 a year.

The Environment Ministry has drawn up an operational programme to preserve outdoor air quality throughout the country, "mainly by directing the future development of settlements in a such a way as to prevent having new excess concentration areas".

Since November 2019, a measure prescribes limiting speeds at motorways and expressways in Novo Mesto, Celje, Ljubljana and Maribor when PM10 concentration levels are exceeded. However, despite excessive pollution the measure has not been applied yet.

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