Air quality in Belarus

Air quality index (AQI) and PM2.5 air pollution in Belarus

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What is the air quality forecast for Belarus?

Belarus which is also officially known as the Republic of Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It shares land borders with 5 other countries; Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. In 2020, it had an estimated population of almost 9.5 million people.

At the start or 2021, Belarus was enjoying a period of “Good” quality air with a US AQI reading of just 17.

This is according to the recommended guidelines by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The recorded level of PM2.5 was 4.1 µg/m³.With figures as low as these, door and windows can be opened to let the fresh air in and outdoor activities can be enjoyed without fear.

What is the information required to determine the level of air pollution in Belarus?

When determining the number of observation points in cities and choosing a priority list of pollutants, first of all, the population size, quantitative and qualitative characteristics of emissions of each pollutant, as well as dispersion factors are taken into account. It should be emphasised that to get a complete picture of air quality in a city, it is not necessary to carry out observations at a large number of stations. It is enough to correctly plan their placement in the city and regularly measure the concentrations of pollutants.

Such data provides an opportunity to obtain fairly complete information on the spatial and temporal changes in the level of air pollution. One or two mobile monitors can greatly assist under special circumstances.

Using data from 22 observation points, the acidity, the components of the main salt composition and the content of heavy metals in them are determined in the samples of atmospheric precipitation. During the period of maximum accumulation of moisture content in the snow, snow surveying is carried out at 22 observation points. Precipitation, both solid and liquid, is an indirect indicator of air pollution. Data on the content of pollutants in atmospheric precipitation are the main material for assessing regional air pollution in industrial centres, cities and rural areas.

The assessment of the long-range atmospheric transport of pollutants is carried out at a specialised transboundary station in Vysokoe which is on the western border of the republic. Additionally, observations of daily atmospheric precipitation are carried out at the stations Mstislavl on the eastern border of the republic and Braslav on the northern border. At the background monitoring station (BMS) of the Berezinsky Reserve, the state of air and atmospheric precipitation is analysed according to the program of the Global Atmosphere Service.

The assessment of the state of atmospheric air is carried out by comparing the values of maximum permissible concentrations (MPC) of pollutants and calculating the values of the atmospheric air quality index (ICAV). The standard values of ICAV for the period are then compared with the number of days in a year which exceed the average daily MPC.

What are the main causes of air pollution in Belarus?

As in most large cities across the world, transport continues to make the largest contribution to air pollution. According to data for 2019, the share of mobile sources in the total volume of emissions in the country is 63 per cent, and in Minsk – 88 per cent. The share of emissions from mobile sources has decreased from 69 per cent in 2012 to 63 per cent in 2019.

Is air quality in Belarus the same throughout the year?

According to continuous measurements in 2019, most of the excess of the quality standard for PM10 was recorded in certain areas of Gomel and Mogilev, for ground-level ozone (O3) - Brest, Grodno, Minsk, Mogilev and Soligorsk. Observation data indicated an increased amount of formaldehyde in the summer in the air of Grodno, Bobruisk, Brest, Pinsk, Orsha, Mogilev and Svetlogorsk. In other cities, the level of formaldehyde pollution of atmospheric air was lower. In the air of Zhlobin, there is a problem of air pollution with PM2.5. During the year, 134 days were recorded with their average daily concentrations above the quality standard, and almost half of them - 63 days were in the spring.

Air temperature has a direct and indirect impact on the content of pollutants in the atmosphere. In the warm season, the rate of photochemical reactions increases significantly with an increase in air temperature, which leads to the formation of secondary pollutants. In the cold season, depending on the ambient temperature, fuel consumption for space heating varies, which can also provoke an increase in the content of pollutants in the ambient air.

Atmospheric precipitation leads to significant air purification. An important role in this process is played by their intensity, quantity and type (rain or snow). Comparison of the results of atmospheric air monitoring and information on the amount and type of atmospheric precipitation made it possible to draw the following conclusions: liquid atmospheric precipitation (rain) cleans the atmospheric air more effectively than snow.

When the snow cover persists, the amount of precipitation in the form of snow and the duration of their fallout do not significantly affect the decrease in the concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5. In this situation, the snow precipitates a larger fraction of solid particles, which is confirmed by the data of stationary observations of the content of solid particles in the air (dust / aerosol undifferentiated in composition).

Based on the results of long-term observations of the quality of atmospheric air, it is possible to distinguish the seasonality of changes in the level of air pollution by certain substances.

Thus, the “classic” period, when the proportion of days with solid particle concentrations (regardless of the size of fractions) above the quality standards, increases, is March and April. The reason for the increase in the content of particulate matter in the air during this period is a lack of precipitation, dust raised from barren areas, as well as anthropogenic sources of emissions such as fuel combustion by mobile and stationary sources, industrial processes, abrasion of the roadway, brake and tyre wear. Long-distance transboundary transport of pollutants also plays a significant role.

In the spring and summer months, an increase in the level of air pollution by ground-level ozone is observed. In spring, this is due to the influx of ground-level ozone from the stratosphere. In summer, ground-level ozone is formed as a result of photochemical reactions in the air, in which nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and other substances react under ultra-violet light from the sun. Ground-level ozone is a secondary pollutant that is not emitted from stationary and mobile sources, and its concentrations usually peak at some distance from precursor emission sources. Therefore, a picture is observed when the content of ground-level ozone in the air in residential areas of the city is higher than in industrial areas. The daily dynamics of ground-level ozone in the air of all cities is the same, only the concentration levels themselves differ.

In the summer, the problem of air pollution with formaldehyde is intensified: the increased temperature of the air leads to the activation of photochemical processes leading to its formation in the atmosphere. Most formaldehyde, as well as ground-level ozone, is formed as a result of photochemical reactions during the interaction of nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and other substances in the atmosphere.

Autumn is a classic period with an increased level of atmospheric air pollution with gaseous substances and solid particles. Due to the lack of precipitation, weak wind, calmness and a high temperature regime, uncharacteristic for this time of year, can all contribute to the accumulation of pollutants in the surface air layer.

In winter, there is a noticeable increase in the level of air pollution with nitrogen oxides and other substances formed as a result of the combustion of fossil fuels. As an example, in Minsk during the heating season, the content of nitrogen oxides in the air is much higher than in the warmer season when heating is at a lower level. A temporary feature should also be noted: an increase in the level of atmospheric air pollution with nitrogen oxides was observed mainly in the morning and evening hours, which is associated with an increase in traffic intensity. The twice daily “rush hour”.

What is the government doing about Belarus’s air quality?

The action plan adopted by the government in 2019 to implement the provisions of the Paris Agreement is being implemented. Strategies for adapting forestry and agriculture of Belarus to climate change until 2050 have been approved, plans are being adopted to mitigate its consequences at the local level. The plan also provides for the development of a strategy for the long-term development of Belarus with a low level of greenhouse gas emissions for the period up to 2050, which will provide for measures in the production of heat and electricity, in the industrial, transport, construction and housing and communal sectors.

What is Belarus doing about transportation and the pollution it causes?

Since 2016, only fuel corresponding to the ecological class K5 has been sold in the country. Belarusian manufacturers have mastered the production of equipment that meets the environmental standards Euro-5 and Euro-6. Transport parks have been significantly updated. Passenger electric transport is actively developing such as electric buses, trolleybuses, trams and electric trains. There are innovative developments in electric vehicles, conditions have been created for the use of this type of transport. The development of electric transport contributes to the reduction of emissions not only of pollutants, but also of greenhouse gases.

How is air pollution monitored in Belarus?

Mobile sources of emissions from vehicles and self-propelled vehicles equipped with engines, the operation of which entails emissions of pollutants into the air.

Emissions of pollutants from mobile sources are calculated in accordance with the amount of pollutants released into the atmospheric air from mobile sources based on the amount of fuel consumed and data on the distribution of the fleet of motor vehicles in circulation in the territory of the Republic of Belarus.

Report on emissions of pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmospheric air from stationary sources of emissions, which is provided by legal entities (except for small businesses) operating facilities impact on the atmospheric air, which have stationary emission sources, in which the amount of pollutants allowed to be released into the air, established for the emission of pollutants into the atmospheric air or integrated environmental permit in the reporting year (except for pollutants of the 1st hazard class),is 25 tons or more per year and (or) pollutants of the 1st hazard class is 1 kg or more per year.

The following emissions of pollutants into the atmospheric air are recorded from both stationary and mobile sources.

Emissions of pollutants into the air by individual substances such as (sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), hydrocarbons, including non-methane volatile organic compounds (VOC)s, carbon monoxide (CO), total suspended particles (PM2.5 and PM10), pollutant emissions substances from stationary sources for substances such as ammonia (NH3), methane (CH4), lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd) and mercury (Hg).

Is the quality of Belarus’s air getting better or worse?

Air monitoring is carried out by Belhydromet in 19 industrial cities of the country, including regional centres. Regular observations cover territories where 87 per cent of the population lives. The results of observations lead to the conclusion that the state of atmospheric air in most cities is quite good. The proportion of periods with unsatisfactory air quality is insignificant. The country is carrying out systematic work to reduce emissions, including through measures for the construction, reconstruction, modernisation of gas cleaning plants. Emissions of pollutants from stationary and mobile sources in 2019 amount to 1,230.9 thousand tons, which is 2.2 per cent less than in 2015 and 7 per cent less than in 2010.

In recent years, there has been a trend towards a decrease in the average annual concentrations of specific pollutants in some cities. Compared to 2015, the content of hydrogen sulphide in the air of Polotsk decreased by 17 per cent, Novopolotsk - by 25 per cent, Mozyr - by 33 per cent. The average annual concentration of phenol in the air also decreased in of Gomel - by 78 per cent, Minsk - by 60 per cent, Mogilev - by 59 per cent, Novopolotsk - by 39 per cent, Polotsk - by 33 per cent. The level of air pollution with carbon disulphide in Mogilev decreased by 50 per cent.

Which is the most polluted state in Belarus?

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