January 26, 2017 | Thursday

Is there any air in this pollution?

Luan Shllaku

(Executive Director of the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society)


Is there any air in this pollution?

We have a paradox: for over three decades citizens of the Kosovo capital have been told that the air that they are breathing is very polluted, but only one month ago they began to feel in panic for this fact! What happened?

There are two developments that made the whole Kosovar journalism find a new headline to fill the pages of news portals, newspapers and TV stations: The US Embassy began to measure the concentration of 2.5 micron particles and send these data to the international network for the monitoring of this polluter. And, an application named AirVisual, which can be easily downloaded into mobile phones, which we all have, reflects the measurements’ results of this polluter in almost all big countries of the globe. Thus, at any moment, each of us can see what is the current level of pollution in Prishtina. This was also found out by one part of the journalists who have now placed air pollution in their radar screens.

But what is the current situation? In the recent months it has been very bad! Given that in the last 3-4 decades in Kosovo no new source of air pollution with 2.5 micron particles was introduced, then the only real conclusion is that the level of pollution is approximately the same as the level that we had in the last 30-40 years! It must be said that there may be slight increases of the level of pollution in recent years due to the increasing number of cars, especially old cars, in the traffic in Prishtina and further. But this increase could not possibly be substantial, or the cause the high levels recorded in recent months. Who is then causing this pollution?

I will mention four factors that have understandably made us hesitate to get out of our homes, the order of which expresses the level of impact on air quality, starting with the dominant influencer: (1) power plants (TC) Kosovo A and Kosovo B, (2) climatic conditions that prevailed in the last two months, (3) traffic, and (4) heating with coal and firewood in households. I must say that power plants burn more coal in a day than all woodstoves and coal-stoves in Prishtina burn for a season! But recently, many “analysts” of the current state of air, placed this pollutant in first place, which I think is wrong, but not without any impact.

If we set aside for a moment the dominant role of power plants on the air quality in Prishtina, then we must find an explanation for the question, since power plants work during the whole year without rest, why do we not have a similar situation with pollution during the other months? We do not, because the second factor indicated above, the situation of climate, was what caused the significant increase of the concentration of particles coming out of the power plants’ stacks, following this climate phenomenon: cold air, being heavier, has captured all dust emissions from power plants, the traffic and house chimneys, and is keeping it down close to us, and not allowing it to go higher (phenomenon that occurs when it is warmer) and getting mixed with air currents (winds) which would spread it everywhere, thus significantly reducing the concentration. By chance, a few days ago I was in a position to see the stacks of power plants, and I noticed that the smoke coming out of the stacks was going in the opposite direction to Prishtina. I was sure that at that moment the concentration of 2.5 micron particles was much lower than in those days. I looked the AirVisual on my phone and I was right – it was only around 30-40 micrograms per cubic meter, many times lower than the on the first day. So there is no doubt that the two dominant factors of the environmental crisis that we had, were caused by power plants and climatic conditions. Traffic and fuel combustion in households are always influential factors, but in the recent days they had a much lower effect than the first two!

What is happening to the power plants? We have again a paradoxical situation. TC Kosova A, which always has been the biggest polluter of the air in this country, currently releases less particles than Kosovo B. This is because of an investment that was made in the reconstruction of existing electro-filters, three years ago, that reduced the dust emission several times (but not the poisonous gases, because gas is not filtered in this way). And TC Kosova B has become the dominant polluter, and currently releases into the air up to four times more than the old power plant A. Yet, both of them together, seen from our perspective, being that we are only 4-5 kilometres away, release enormous amounts of dust in the air, which will continue for a long time to be the main factor for damaging the public health in Prishtina and its surroundings.

Without further elaborating on what needs to be done, let’s say that at the moment the competent authorities have many legal and practical solutions to improve or mitigate this situation, because the Law on Environment has in itself sufficient legal mechanisms, that if applied, would improve the situation significantly. So, all that you have to do is implement the law – for what the rule of law is required – for a start. The government can at least take a step, which is easily done, to show us that it is concerned about this serious health situation, to make a decision immediately, which abrogates the previous decision to import cars without restricting “the age” and adapts the obligation that the vehicles circulating in traffic meet the standards that are set by the EU as Euro 3-6. Take any of these, and there will be a progress in the field and a good message to the citizens of the capital and everyone else.