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Air pollution: Governments and cities have to do more, agreed the participants of the international conference

27. 11. 2018,
Air pollution: Governments and cities have to do more, agreed the participants of the international conference
Vice-Rector of the Ostrava University, Jelena Petrucijová. PHOTO: Majda Slámová / ARNIKA

The four-day international conference ‘Fighting Air Pollution in the Industrial Cities of Europe,’ organized by the Arnika Association of the Czech Republic, was held in Ostrava. The intergovernmental organizations adopted the appeals to the governments and public authorities of Europe and the former Soviet Union to take part in solving air pollution, one of the great existential challenges of humankind killing.

The Ostrava Conference hosted environmentalists, politicians, medical experts, state officials, lawyers, and activists from Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Italy, Kazakhstan, Poland and Ukraine.

“We, the participants of the International Conference, (…) recognize the importance of the air pollution in our region for the environment and human health of current, but future generations also,” states the document formulating essential conditions for improving the situation throughout the region (1).

“In many countries, citizens do not get the right information about the state of the environment. Often, the air pollution level is not measured reliably,” explains Martin Skalský, chairman of Arnika Association, organizer of the conference. “The problem is also the enforceability of law, corruption, dysfunctional state administration, lack of interest in politicians, or too much influence of industry. The Czech Republic has been sharing its experiences from its three decades with the civic activists in the countries where the situation is more complex in many ways. Pollution is borderless. Solving global environmental problems is not possible without international cooperation,” Skalský adds.

The Ostrava Declaration emphasizes the key problems and urges the government to deal with them: a reliable measuring system of air quality, public access to data, implementation of EU standards to reduce pollution, public participation in decision-making and enforcement of the law. No public funding should be approved for environmentally harmful industries. The document also calls for the use of double standards of multinational corporations in different parts of the world, such as the steel giant ArcelorMittal operating in six out of eight countries represented at the conference. (2)

The document also appeals to organizations and citizens of the region. “We urge the civil society organizations to pay attention to the topic of air pollution, enforce the access to information, and public participation in decision-making on the topic,” Tamara Kharchylava, a lawyer from Kyiv based in NGO Ecoaction, concludes. Participants also expressed their concerns over the increasing number of environmental activists.

Disregarded countries?
The City Council member of Mariupol, Ukraine, Maksym Borodin reminds that, “in spite of arriving from different cities, regions and countries, we have many things in common regarding air pollution.” (3)

As the conference presentations and debates showed, multinational corporations often apply double standards in different countries, abusing weak environmental standards in the non-EU countries.

“There is no second-rate world, second-rate nations, or second-rate people,” stated Samir Lemesou, and Bosnian-Herzegovinian environmentalists. “We all should have the same rights, one of them being having healthy and non-toxic air to breathe,” Zenica civic association adds.

Stories heard in Ostrava
The participants of the international meeting saw, among others, a presentation from northern Armenia, where the factory bursts the smoke on the UNESCO-listed medieval monasteries. This year, once again, the inhabitants of Karaganda, Kazakhstan witnessed the black snow from the ArcelorMittal Temirtau steel mill. The participants from Ukraine are in the city in the eastern part of the country.

Participants also shared successful examples of grassroot campaigns in Italy, Poland, and the Czech Republic, where the pressure from civil societies made significant environmental improvements possible, together with the active approach of the public authorities and the strict requirements of the European Union. Although the region of Ostrava is still one of the most polluted bridges in the EU, the emissions from local metallurgical enterprises have dropped to half, thanks to the inhabitants. (4)

“The active approach and wide interest of the citizens in public affairs are crucial here, we need people’s support to be able to help them,” explains Dimitriy Kalmykov, director of the Ecomuseum Karaganda, Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, in many cities, the inhabitants are unaware of the hazardous health threat floating over their heads.

Notes for editors:

Below, you can find quotations and panel summaries of all panellists.

(1) Read the full text of the Ostrava Declaration on Air Pollution here:

(2) The key requirements of the Ostrava Declarations are:

  • to provide reliable measuring systems of air quality;
  • to ensure public access to data on air pollution;
  • implementation of EU standards to reduce emissions;
  • to enforce public participation in decision-making;
  • functional state control over compliance with law;
  • full stop of public funding approved to environmentally harmful investments;
  • to avoid using double standards of multinational corporations in different countries.

(3) Mariupol city council deputy, Maksym Borodin has recently won a Ukrainian TV show providing him with one million games (EUR 31,750) for an air pollution monitoring station. Read more here:

(4) Presentations from the conference are available here:

The photo gallery from the Ostrava Conference is available here:

Quotation of attendees:

Martin Skalský, chairman of the Arnika Association and head of the Citizens Support Center: “In many countries, citizens do not get the right information about the state of the environment. Often, the air pollution level is not measured reliably. The problem is also the enforceability of law, corruption, dysfunctional state administration, lack of interest in politicians, or too much influence of industry. The Czech Republic has been sharing its experiences from its three decades with the civic activists in the countries where the situation is more complex in many ways. We support their campaigns for a better environment. Pollution is borderless. Solving global environmental problems is not possible without international cooperation. The aim of the conference is also to define common problems and ways to promote wider or more radical changes.”

MUDr. Radim Šrám, DrSc., chairman of the Environment Commission of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic: “Over the last decade, the air pollutants spectrum has changed in the Czech Republic. In North Bohemia, the local fireplaces used to be the main problem. Thanks to significant governmental investments in gasification and technological modernization of power plants, the situation has improved. In the Moravian-Silesian Region, the situation is different. In the town of Poruba and Karvina, for example, the concentration of benzo (a) pyrene, there is an increase in Radvanice – Bartovice, which is probably caused by the industry. Overall, air pollution in the Czech Republic is constantly increasing, which can be proven to cause genetic damage and, unfortunately, will affect the next generation.”

Jarmila Uvírová, Deputy Governor of the Moravian-Silesian Region, Czech Republic: “I am glad that the Moravian-Silesian Region hosts this conference. It is an example of a region that is coping successfully with its industrial history and its associated environmental burden. Although we still cannot say that all air pollution problems are resolved, we are on the right track and other regions should follow our example. Investments into the environmental technologies in the industry; in the last 15 years, solid pollutants have dropped by about half. But we continue in our efforts; we want to replace all unsuitable boilers in our homes and promote the greening of industry and transport. We are struggling with bad habits, prejudices and laziness; we do not want the morphology of our region and poor dispersion conditions. 

Mgr. Kateřina Šebestová, Deputy Mayor of Ostrava, Czech Republic: “The air quality in Ostrava has improved significantly over the long term. Current dust emissions from industrial sources have fallen to five percent of the state 30 years ago. However, we still do not breathe clean air. A simple solution does not exist, pollution causes more impact. When I speak for a city, with cross-border emissions from Poland and the ‘unfortunate’ geomorphology of the Ostrava basin, we do not do much, but the effects of other influences are constantly decreasing. For example, thanks to the planted 550,000 trees and shrubs, originally ‘black’ Ostrava has become one of the greenest cities in the Czech Republic. We greatly ecologize urban public transport, help the people of Ostrava to exchange boilers and provide them with interest-free loans, and we have increased the allowance for children in the mountains to 22 million crowns. We have multiplied road cleaning, we are working on dozens of projects to expand green areas in the city or revitalize existing ones, build bicycle paths, and promote alternative transport modes in several educational events. We have done a study on the possible introduction of low-emission zones; we are now considering the possibility of introducing transport measures in the case of smog measures. There are a number of different projects and measures to improve the air in Ostrava, and I believe the results will be known in a few years.” 

Doc. Ing. Petr Jančík, Ph.D., head of Department of Environmental Protection, Faculty of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering, Technical University of Ostrava, Czech Republic: “Air pollution in our region has a significant influence on weather, in addition to emissions from various sources. The trend of improvement for all significant pollutants in the monitoring stations, except in Radvanice – Bartovice has been observed in the last ten years. Even on this station, however, there is a positive trend in suspended particles. This is mainly due to investments in the deduction of significant technologies. If this trend is continued and the pollution with benzo (a) pyrene should be reduced, it will be necessary to invest significantly in technologies, as well as in their maintenance and operation. The impact of possible measures for improvement will also be demonstrated by the Air Quality Management System developed in the international Air Tritia project.”

Prof. RNDr. Jindrich Petrlik, head of Arnika Program – Toxic and Waste Program: “In the Czech Republic, the biggest source of air pollution is either traffic or local furnaces. The Ostrava region is one of the exceptions; industrial plants remain an important source of pollution. People from areas affected, like Ostrava, from places with large metallurgical enterprises, went to Ostrava. At the conference, we will introduce how pollutant registers can be used as a non-violent tools, driving the industry to reduce pollutant emissions, which does not treat everything but uses the power of information available. This is not yet common in all countries; big multinational companies use it, and in some cases, it can be said to be abusive.”

Mgr. Matěj Mrlina, Air Protection Department, Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic: “My presentation mainly focused on the legislation that deals with air protection, international sources, European legislation, and national regulations. Legal instruments in air protection can also be divided into groups. I focused mainly on permissible levels and statutory obligations together with conceptual, administrative, economic and special tools, all with the technical parts– the network of monitoring stations in the Czech Republic and their operation.

Mgr. Jan Kolář, head of IPPC and EIA Department of the Czech Environmental Information Agency (CENIA): The Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) was implemented into the national legislation of the Czech Republic in February of 2013. IPPC has been in since March of 2002 by implementing the former IPPC Directive. Integrated permitting started in the Czech Republic in January of 2003 with some specific issues of the IPPC process, including the role of CENIA, Czech Environmental Information Agency, in this process. The new IED brought a different approach to the best available techniques (BAT) by setting the emission levels associated with the best available techniques in the BAT Conclusions.

Mgr. Blanka Krejčí, head of Regional Czech Hydro-Meteorological Institution (CHMI) in Ostrava: “Data provided by the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute together with further analytical information and services help increase the quality of life in the Czech Republic through various controls, analysis and monitoring systems. The contributory organization set up by the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic is involved in the drafting of national legislation on ambient air quality, and has participated in the preparation and revision of programs for air quality management, and reduction of emissions. The panel will cover a number of topics– history, experience, legislative requirements, regional or cross-border cooperation, as well as present polluters and hotspots in the Czech Republic.”

Mariano Alterio, Peacelink, Italy: “ILVA-Taranto is the largest steel plant in Europe and produces an enormous amount of harm to human health and the environment. The Italian judiciary has repeatedly ordered the seizure of the plants. The Italian state has issued about 10 acts to save the company and continue production. ILVA violates the right to life, the right to health and the right to live in a healthy environment of hundreds of thousands of citizens. The ILVA case can be called ‘occupational blackmail’: it condemns themselves, their children and the entire territory, in which they were born.

Rafał PsikZagłębiowski Smog Alert, Poland: “Poland, as part of the EU, has recently made a lot of improvement in the reduction of emissions from Power Generation and Industrial sector. Still, some industrial spots remain and are for local communities, like coking plants, steel mills or paper productions. But the main pollution problem in Poland comes from coal, wood, and waste-burning at households. Over 50% of PM10 emissions and over 90% of carcinogenic benzo (a) pyrene comes from small burners at citizens’ homes across the country. Recently, many local groups started their activities to press a local government to take action to improve air quality. The paper will describe the current status of air pollution in Poland, as well as examples of local group actions in different locations in Poland.”

Dmitriy Kalmykov, director of EcoMuseum, Kazakhstan: “Existing laws are not working– and legislative change is needed.” International cooperation is the key for our country. Environmental online monitoring needs to be available to the public. There’s a lot of us– thousands, millions– to achieve the positive results.”

Oleg Dulgaryan, director of the SOS without Borders (Armenia): “Alaverdi Copper Smelting Plant is one of the main industrial enterprises in the province of Lori, Armenia. The presentation will cover the environmental and social situation affected by the factory’s operation, as well as the activities of the ‘SOS Alaverdi’ initiative, its public perception and challenges in recent months after the Armenian ‘Velvet Revolution.’ A new government balance between environmental and social problems in Alaverdi, factoring in significant pressure of factory management.”

DrSc. Samir Lemeš, director of Eco Forum Zenica (Bosnia and Herzegovina): “For more than a century, the city of Zenica was the metallurgical center of the Western Balkans. The first attempt to cope with excessive air pollution was the 1990s war when the steelworks stopped its operations. Global steel giant ArcelorMittal acquired a factory in 2004 and restarted the integral steel production in 2008, promising that pollution will be reduced. However, these promises remain unfulfilled with various excuses instead of big investments. A local NGO spent years trying to enhance environmental protection and pollution reduction, organizing meetings, media campaigns, protest rallies, researches, lawsuits and litigations, participating in environmental permitting processes and financial institutions for stricter conditions for the industry.

Pippa Gallop, CEE Bankwatch Network, Research Coordinator, CEE Bankwatch Networ: “The workshop will also share ideas about what new activities could be undertaken by international financing of the heavy industry.”

Maksym Soroka, researcher at Dnepropetrovsk National Railway University:“My report was devoted to the peculiarities of air monitoring at the local and national levels of Ukraine with the main problems of assessing the quality and safety of atmospheric air– the uncertainty of national legislation, the deficit of material and technical base, and the limited list of environmental monitoring substances. I present the problems of air monitoring from different points of view– a position of regulatory authorities, enterprises, local and public governments, together with mechanisms of formation and verification of statistical data about air polls in Ukraine, as well as unfair practices of hiding and minimizing emissions to the air. Lastly, the problems of public access to timely and reliable information on the quality of atmospheric air were described.

Olena Reshetko, (Ukraine): ”Taking information from activists of Dnipro and Zaporizhia, Olena Reshetko, a former accountant, began to look for information on public health risks from environmental pollution in the city of Kharkiv on her own since all approached authorities refused to take any part in such calculations. Using the data from the Kharkiv Regional Oncological Center, Reshetko managed to make the calculation, which showed a correlation between the occurrence of cancer-like diseases and the distance of people’s accommodations from industrial enterprises due to being exposed to hazardous chemicals– hydrogen cyanide, ammonia , dioxin– from the Kharkiv Coke Plant and the Thermolife mineral wool plant.”

Anna Ambrosova, Stop poisoning Kryvyi Rih (Ukraine): “The industrial city of Kryvyi Rih is in the center of Ukraine. The largest enterprise of the city is PJSC ArcelorMittal Kryvyi Rih (AMKR). That is the source of 80% of the emissions to the atmospheric air in the city, 40% in the Dnipropetrovsk region. After the protests held in 2016, the AMKR’s management had to start a dialogue with the public in order to avoid the conflict. As a result, a memorandum was signed between the coalition of public organizations called ‘Stop poisoning Kryvyi Rih’ and the company. During the last two years, the coalition conducted an investigation into AMKR’s violations of the Ukrainian legislation.”

Iryna Pirogova, All-Ukrainian Environmental League: “It was an incredible and unique event, gathering many experts in one city of Ostrava. The whole community has been discussing different legislative bases with different economic and political conditions in each country. However, we share common problems– the polluted air, the unfair industry, and the problem of disease, as a result of exposure to industrial enterprises. I learned of the terrible practices taking place in various countries. The health of millions of people is being neglected for the sake of profit. Some positive examples can be seen as well– there are good civic initiatives, bright ideas, honest scientists and even enterprises fulfilling their obligations to society in terms of nature conservation and reducing their impact. I am glad for the opportunity to join this event.”

Maksym Borodin, Mariupol city council deputy: “Mariupol is a half-million city, in which there are two large metallurgical enterprises of the Metinvest company, owned by the oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov – Azovstal and the Illich Steel and Iron Works. Technological optimization and the environmental situation in Mariupol changed significantly in 2011-2012, caused by a series of mass protests. As a result, Metinvest was forced to shut down part of the outdated enterprise and start with the modernization of the facilities. Local activists lack political influence for any further global environmental changes. Will they succeed in their goal of changing the ecology of not only Mariupol, but also other industrial cities of Ukraine?

Nikola Carić, Clean Sky Association (CZ): “What is the air in Ostrava like? What can we do about it? And how should the NGOs try to resolve this topic? The presentation will provide an introduction to the field of work on the Clean Sky NGO and its recent activities. The presentation will cover the lowering of pollution possibilities.”

Peter Andrášik, lawyer of the Frank Bold Society (CZ): “The presentation will show tools in three EU directives that are key to tackling air pollution. We are going to look at the tools in the Air Quality Directive, the National Emissions Directive, and the Industrial Emissions Directive. Some tools are going to be presented in detail with an overview of the results and best practices achievable with them. The presentation will also talk about infringement procedures and about Czech experiences with air quality protection cases.

Ing. Tomas Mosler, Ph.D., ArcelorMittal Ostrava, Czech Republic: “ArcelorMittal Ostrava, established in 1951, is a leading steel producer in the Czech Republic producing more than 2 million tons annually and employing 6,500 people. It takes a comprehensive approach towards reducing its environmental footprint, focusing both on water and air protection and waste minimization. To minimize its air emissions, it installed greening technologies in three stages: in the 1990s, between the years 2008–2012, and 2015–2016. Through the greening, the steelmaker reduced its dust emission to 99% up to the 1980s, from almost 40,000 tons to 379 tons in 2017.

Clean Air for Ukraine

This project is led by a non-governmental organization Arnika (Czech Republic) in cooperation with local civic initiatives in industrial towns of Ukraine with financial support from the Transition Promotion Program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.

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