Excessively polluted air in Serbia at start of heating season

When data from the government’s measuring stations are compared to the World Health Organization’s new recommendations, the air in Serbia is excessively polluted almost everywhere it is monitored, even though the heating season is only beginning. Professor Vladimir Đurđević from the Faculty of Physics in Belgrade pointed to the results of new research that showed ten thousand people die per year from exposure to polluted air.

The institutions aren’t doing their job in the sphere of air pollution control in Serbia, according to speakers at a roundtable organized by the National Ecological Association (NEA). The event was held at the start of the heating season, during which extremes unheard of elsewhere in Europe occur in many places. It worsens the continuously difficult situation in industrial centers like Bor and Smederevo.

Commenting on the report for last year from the Serbian Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), the former chief of its relevant department Milenko Jovanović said the problems remained the same. The court reinstated him after he was unlawfully fired, but the agency degraded the team, leaving only three people to track the government’s entire network of air monitoring stations.

No one held accountable for violating law, jeopardizing public health

The law doesn’t cover the concentration of heavy metals in the air, Jovanović warned. He said sulfur dioxide has been “eliminated” in Europe from the group of serious pollutants but that in Bor, which is the most polluted city in Serbia, the levels surpassed the legal maximum 374 times last year. On 25 occasions, SO2 presence was dangerous for health for more than three consecutive hours, even though such breaches are officially not tolerated.  

The median level of arsenic was 46 times higher than allowed in 2020 and the legal limits were surpassed by several times also for cadmium and lead. At the same time, public inspection halved the number of its criminal charges and economic offenses, Jovanović revealed. The number of verdicts came in at just 16, compared to 73 from 2018.

Almost half of ten thousand premature deaths can be prevented by following regulations

Professor Vladimir Đurđević from the Faculty of Phisics in Belgrade pointed to a new finding that 9,773 people in Serbia die prematurely every year just from exposure to particulate matter PM2.5. He estimated the total number, including the effect of ozone and nitrogen oxides, is near ten thousand.

The data is from a domestic project for the development of an air protection program. In Đurđević’s words, the number of early deaths can be lowered to between 5,401 and 7,373, depending on which protection measures are applied.

The upper level could be reached if the law was just followed in the segment of emission control and desulfurization in Serbia’s entire fleet of eight large combustion plants, mostly coal-fired power plants, Đurđević said.

For the most optimistic scenario so far, where the death count would drop to 5,401, citizens would have a role including in the replacement of old cars and the introduction of environmentally friendly household heating devices. But the government is responsible for three quarters of preventable deaths, Đurđević added.

Urban population’s exposure in Serbia is two times higher than in EU

Dejan Lekić, another expert from NEA who worked in SEPA, highlighted the new recommendations from the World Health Organization, which drastically reduced the maximum desired levels of PM2.5 and PM10 particles on an annual level.

He said that according to that adjustment, almost every monitoring station registered more than 35 daily breaches, which is the highest number allowed in Serbia. When the same criteria are applied, the air was already excessively polluted on October 3 at almost every station in Serbia.

The exposure of the urban population to PM2.5 and PM10 in Serbia is two times higher than in the EU, Lekić said, citing data from the European Environment Agency. He has created an application called xEco vazduh that shows air quality from public monitoring stations in Serbia.

Electrostatic filters are not enough

Professor Dragana Đorđević from the Institute for Chemistry, Technology and Metallurgy (IHTM) at the University of Belgrade noted that coal-fired power plants in Serbia produce six million tons of ash per year. Electrostatic filtering systems can’t do everything, as they only hold larger particles but not the smaller ones, which are more dangerous, she asserted.

In her words, arsenic, radon and mercury are emitted into the air as gas, which makes them far more dangerous.

Excessively polluted air in Serbia at start of heating season

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