More concrete and effective measures needed to improve air quality, says economist Dominika Tóthová

15 Jun 2022 Jana Sosnová

Dominika Tóthová at the Faculty of Economics and Administration of MU, Photo: Martin Indruch

Air protection in the Czech Republic still has many shortcomings. Although the situation is slowly improving, health complications caused by air pollution are still having powerful impacts, in particular on urban dwellers. In her research, environmental economist Dominika Tóthová examines the economic effects of the health complications caused by air pollution on individuals and society.

Is air quality improving in the Czech Republic?

It is improving, but very slowly. In many locations, especially in built-up areas and larger cities, there are still long-term exceedances of the legal emission limits for some substances. Ostrava, Karviná, and Frýdek-Místek remain the most polluted regions. However, the level of pollution in a given year depends not only on the volume of pollutants emitted, but also on meteorological and dispersion conditions. Transboundary transport also has a significant impact.

What specific costs are incurred by people living in areas with high air pollution?

For households, these are mainly costs that are not covered by health insurance. They include expenses related to the treatment and prevention of illness, such as top-ups for medicines and other medicinal products, medical supplies, or convalescent stays. Another cost is loss of wages due to absence from work. However, if we look at the problem in terms of overall loss of welfare, this also includes opportunity costs for time lost due to illness, or the value of loss of utility due to pain or inability to carry out normal activities.

Can you say which of these costs is the most burdensome?

Illness for people of working age is the most burdensome. They lose wages due to absence from work, either because of their own illness or to care for a family member. These costs are usually the largest item. However, the financial burden varies according to the type and severity of the illness. It depends on many factors, not just the type and severity of the illness, but also its duration or frequency.

What costs do municipalities and cities incur in relation to air pollution?

For cities with poor air quality, the main cost is prevention. These usually include transport measures such as greening public transport, building ring roads, or building cycling infrastructure. However, other costs also include planting green areas, public awareness-raising events, or drawing up strategic documents to improve air quality.

Long-term exceedances of pollutants also cause damage to buildings and materials. In the case of the City of Ostrava, other costs include, for example, extra road cleaning, the city’s contribution to co-financing boiler replacements, or contributions to the Fund for Children at Risk of Air Pollution.

How do you assess efforts to improve air quality in the Czech Republic?

In recent years, some measures have had a positive impact on improving air quality, such as the installation of technologies to reduce industrial emissions, fleet renewal, or boiler replacements. Despite this, air protection in the Czech Republic still has many shortcomings. For example, cities have too little competence in regulating industry in their territory, which is usually the responsibility of the region. A related issue is the fact that revenue from air pollution charges solely goes to the State Environmental Fund, the state budget, and the region. There’s also an obligation to regularly draw up air quality improvement programmes for polluted areas, but these are often very unspecific and do not lead to effective measures being implemented. In particular, proposed actions to improve air quality should be specific, effective, and clearly time-bound.

You continued your research after your parental leave and decided to use the Career Restart programme. How did it help you?

Thanks to the Career Restart programme, I can focus more closely on my main research topic in air pollution. In addition to helping me gain financial stability, the grant will also allow me to fund the research-related costs necessary to improve the quality of my work. This includes various trips, expenses related to the sample survey, etc.

How difficult was it to get the grant?

Compared to grants from the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic, for example, Career Restart is much easier to get. The key is to meet the qualification criteria and have a clear project plan. As the grant is aimed at integrating researchers after a career break, especially after parental leave, it’s not open for simply everyone to apply for, and thus competition is much lower.

Would you recommend Career Restart to your colleagues?

Definitely. It’s a relatively simple grant scheme. As long as applicants meet the criteria, have the potential to work in a research team, are developing their career, and of course have a clear idea of where to direct their own research, there’s absolutely no reason not to go for it. Writing a project application is not at all difficult, and the implementation of the project will certainly help you get your scientific career back up and running.

Dominika Tóthová works at the Department of Regional Economics and Administration and the Sustainability and Circularity Institute at the Faculty of Economics and Administration of MU. Her research focuses on the economic aspects of environmental pollution and the circular economy. She is currently co-investigator of projects supported by Norway Grants, the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic, and the City of Brno.

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