Air quality in Brno has been improving but it is still far from ideal

25 Apr 2024 Jana Sosnová

How is the air quality in Brno and what are the consequences of pollution was investigated by a scientific team from ECON MUNI and RECETOX | Photo: Jitka Janů

Poor air quality has significant economic impacts on people's health. A team of scientists from ECON MUNI and the RECETOX centre has been preoccupied with air quality in Brno since 2021. They have even involved in their research children from several primary schools. Dr Dominika Tóthová, Associate Professor Vilém Pařil and Dr Ondřej Mikeš answer the questions.

Where does Brno stand in terms of air quality?

VP: The situation in Brno has been improving in the long run. However, there is still a long way to go to reach the levels of pollutants recommended by the World Health Organization.

DT: Brno is facing similar air quality problems as other large cities in the Czech Republic. The main ones include traffic, local heating and, in the short term, also construction work. Early measurements done by accredited mobile stations show that the concentration limits for substances commonly measured under the Air Protection Act are probably not exceeded in the monitoring sites. However, concentration limit for benzo[a]pyrene may potentially be exceeded, particularly in peripheral urban areas where there are homes heated with solid fuels.

OM: Regarding traffic, congestions are a major problem. The big city ring road and the north-south motorway, which would improve the traffic flow and thus significantly reduce emissions, are still not completed.

What economic impacts can air quality have on people's health?

DT: Poor air quality can increase the incidence of respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, or cardiovascular disease. This can lead to higher costs of treatment and hospitalisation, which are either covered by health insurance and public funds or paid for by people themselves. People suffering from these health problems have a reduced ability to work and their productivity drops, which can lead to lower economic performance not only for individuals but also for businesses. People may also be more likely to stay at home from work or leave work for longer periods, which can lead to fluctuations in the workforce and the potential cost of staff replacement and training.

On top of that, people suffering from health problems caused by poor air quality bear the costs of the time lost, which could otherwise be used more productively. Impaired quality of life due to discomfort and pain is another consequence. While these costs are difficult to measure and cannot be precisely quantified, they have a real impact on individuals and the society and have a major impact on overall well-being as well.

Scientiic team members: Ondřej Mikeš, Dominika Tóthová and Vilém Pařil | Photo: Jitka Janů

Is the air better in a village or in a city?

VP: It can often happen that the air is cleaner in the city. The reason is the main source of particulate matter in the air: local heating systems, i.e. the way houses and apartments are heated. And it is in private homes that solid fuels are often burned, which significantly pollutes the air.

OM: But we cannot generalise this difference simply to villages/cities. It all depends on the sources of electric power and heating, the terrain of the landscape and dispersion conditions, but also on the sources of pollution located close to the municipalities. Some municipalities or towns may simply lie in a less convenient location, so pollution may be coming to them from more distant sources over which they have no control.

What surprised you during your research?

VP: We were surprised that air quality is improving despite increasing traffic, which is evidence of the effectiveness of various measures in greening transport as such. What was a kind of expected surprise was the fluctuations of selected pollutants around large municipal gardens or private homes areas.

OM: In these areas we see a problem of dry grass and leaf burning in gardens that all cities, including Brno, should pay attention to.

What challenges have you encountered?

VP: The biggest challenge for us was the actual monitoring in the field. As for certified measurements, the process of selecting a suitable supplier of instruments was challenging and took about a year. The actual measurement then took another year. The same was true for the small measuring instruments, the so-called “personal samplers”, which we had produced customised for the research. Pupils of several primary schools from Brno were carrying them and helped us collect unique data on air quality in different parts of the city of Brno. We also conducted a questionnaire survey in both the research and control groups. It was therefore a combined collection of several layers of primary data, which was very demanding in terms of logistics and organisation.

What were the main findings of the research where children were involved?

OM: We need to process the data further, because it is unique in terms of spatiotemporal distribution. Every child could be in one place doing one activity at one moment, but suddenly, they could be somewhere else doing a different thing. The comparison of the results between pupils in different schools however shows that there are no significantly worse or better areas between the schools studied.

Some individual data showed that children's exposure to harmful substances may be incomparably greater for example at home where somebody smokes or where there are other sources of pollution. Regarding the travels to schools, it seems that work is needed on possible alternative routes within the catchment area, so that children can choose healthier routes by cycling or walking. It is important that the route is safe and is not situated alongside major roads, which would unnecessarily increase children's exposure to traffic emissions.

What practical implications will the findings of your research have?

VP: We managed to update the Action Plan for Brno Air Quality Improvement, in which we outlined a number of measures to improve air quality in the city. It is available among other things on our website.

DT: Regarding our research on air quality measurements with children, our aim was not only to find out the burden on children, but also to educate them on this matter. We organised several lectures and workshops for them, where they had to propose specific projects how to improve air quality around their schools. Every parent of a child who participated in the research also received an individual report with the measurement results. We will also communicate our findings directly to the schools and recommend what air quality measures they could take.

The project Monitoring and Measures to Improve Air Quality in the City of Brno was supported by Norway through the Norway Grants and the State Environmental Fund of the Czech Republic.

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