Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central, Eastern, and South-eastern Europe. It shares land borders with 5 other countries and has a Black Sea coastline. The capital city is Bucharest. In 2020 its estimated population was 19.3 million people.
At the start of 2021, Romania was experiencing a period of “Moderate” quality air with a US AQI reading of 54. This follows the classification suggested by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The concentrate level of PM2.5 was 13.7 µg/m³. With pollution at this level, it is advisable to close doors and windows to prevent the ingress of dirty air. Those of a sensitive disposition should avoid outdoor activity until the air quality improves. If venturing outside is unavoidable, then a good quality face mask should be worn at all times.
The main sources of air pollution in Romania can come from any of the following, but generally speaking, the main source in any large city is vehicle emissions followed by industrial emissions.
Private cars are, according to a scientific document that the Bucharest City Hall has had at its disposal since 2014, the main culprits of the polluting emissions in the city. But here we do not only refer to cars, but also to heavy commercial vehicles, buses and other vehicles. Taken together, the latter are more polluting than all cars combined (52.8 per cent of the total compared to 47.2 per cent of cars).
Burning fossil fuels in electricity production, transportation, industry and households, industrial processes and the use of solvents, for example in the chemical and extractive industries are chief contributors. Agriculture, the treatment of waste products and emissions from volcanic eruptions, airborne dust, sea salt dispersal and emissions of volatile organic compounds from plants are examples of natural emission sources.
In order to have a better understanding of the causes of air pollution, we must know that pollutants that enter the atmosphere can be divided into primary pollutants and secondary pollutants. Thus, primary pollutants are the direct result of an industrial process (such as sulphur dioxide emitted by factories) while secondary pollutants are caused by the reactions of primary pollutants, usually as a direct result of ultraviolet light from the sun.
Due to the combustion of fossil fuels (such as coal or oil), sulphur dioxide is one of the main causes of air pollution whilst at the same time, cars with internal combustion engines, are major sources of pollutants with harmful effects on air quality because they collectively release tens of thousands of tons of harmful gases into the atmosphere every day.
Agricultural activities can be a source of air pollution through the production of ammonia. It is a product often used in activities specific to the agricultural sector whilst being one of the most dangerous gases in the atmosphere. Moreover, the widespread use of insecticides and pesticides contributes to the pollution of the environment, including the atmosphere.
Mining is a field in which large equipment is used. During the process, dust and chemicals are released into the air causing large amounts of air pollution. This is one of the reasons why this activity is responsible for the deterioration of the health of workers and residents near mining operations.
Even household activities can cause polluted air with household cleaning products or paint products which emit toxic substances into the air that cause environmental pollution.
We must not forget the ancestral habit of burning vegetable waste in the cold season. All cities are surrounded by villages where the air is unbreathable due to wood smoke coming not only from the chimneys of houses but especially from gardens (43 per cent of Romanians' homes are heated by wood and coal). In the atmospheric conditions in which the wind blows slowly and the smoke does not rise, it enters the cities with the fog, in the evening, and stays there until late.
Several measures are to be introduced by the local authorities in an attempt to reduce air pollution. Powerful washing of streets and pavements with water and/or their subsequent vacuuming (reduces suspended particles by about 70 per cent on the pavement). The planting of hedges and perennial bushes at the edge of boulevards and streets reduces suspended pollutants by 15-60 per cent on the pavement, depending on the pollutant, such as PM2.5, PM10 and carbon dioxide etc.
The prohibition of the use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers and lawnmowers and their replacement with electric blowers together with the prohibition, monitoring and punishment of burning of vegetable waste both in the city and in the surrounding villages will also contribute to cleaner air.
Careful monitoring of landfills, cement production plants, incinerators and the burning of any type of waste, as well as careful monitoring of factories in the city and all sources of gas combustion (including residential blocks), are measures to be introduced as soon as possible. If the construction of incinerators is chosen to replace the current landfills, they should use state-of-the-art technology and not have to bring garbage from other areas.
Construction sites need careful monitoring and infrastructure interventions, as the resulting dust remains in the atmosphere and is full of particularly toxic substances.
Landscaping, planting trees and greenery all year round, is conducive to cleaner city air, especially those which are resistant to shade. They have the ability to retain and filter dust much higher than ordinary trees, in addition, they help biodiversity.
The reduction of concrete spaces dedicated to surface parking is to be implemented and to increase the cost of parking to stimulate the construction of underground car parks replaced by surface parks are two measures to be introduced. The one million cars parked on the ground in Bucharest represent many sources of pollution, regardless of their technical condition.
It is hoped to begin construction of dedicated cycle lanes to cross the city on its axes, on the central and middle ring. These would reduce driving by distances of less than 5 kilometres. Cycling and walking short distances are to be actively encouraged.
Massive investment in electrified public transport and the gradual abandonment of diesel buses is strongly being considered. All new buses should be electric so that in a maximum of ten years there will be no more diesel buses in the city's car park or on the city’s streets.
Trams are the greenest means of urban public transport, but only if they are modernised and are powered by clean electricity with zero emissions.
The creation of green roofs on schools and other buildings, especially in densely populated areas has been suggested. There are 7 million square meters of terraces in Bucharest, which currently reach over 70C during the summer. The use of a combination of green roof (sedum type plants) and semi-transparent solar panels would increase the green area of the city by more than 30 per cent, with immediate effect on the phenomenon of "heat island" above the city, which raises the temperature and exacerbates pollution.
Planting trees around the city and creating green corridors that cross the city. These axes can be 50-100 metres wide and can include cycle lanes and pedestrian spaces surrounded by greenery, thus becoming a much healthier alternative than the boulevards full of polluted air.
Investment in underground public transport and light surface metro as the main means of transport in the city need to be considered. The subway is the most efficient public transport solution both in terms of pollution and energy consumption.
Another aspect to be considered is the reconfiguration of transit traffic to bypass the city (park & ride, belt, commuter trains, etc.). Here a strategy of the Ministry of Transport is needed because the local authorities do not have the financial capacity to execute such projects on their own.
The use of public transport considerably reduces air pollution and at the same time decongests traffic. Imagine 60 occupants of a bus in 60 cars. You will already have a full road at a length of at least 200 metres (compared to the maximum 7 meters of a bus), congested traffic and unbreathable air in the immediate vicinity of the "motorised procession". Try to use the trolleybus or the subway instead of driving into the city and you will know that on that day you did a little to protect the environment!
23 per cent of cars are older than 20 years, 25 per cent are between 16 and 20 years old, and 31 per cent are between 11 and 15 years old. 79 per cent of the cars on the streets of Romania are, in fact, scrap.
This information must be looked at once again, in order to understand the magnitude of the problem: almost half of the cars in Romania are older than 16 years, being produced before 2005! And 79 per cent of cars in Romania are older than 11 years.
Many of them do not even correspond to the datasheet valid at the time of manufacture, so they do not pollute only a few times more than a new car, according to Euro 2-4 standards reported on paper to Euro 5-6 standards, but tens, sometimes hundreds of times. This can be seen with the naked eye in the city, where many diesel-powered cars run with the microparticle cleaning system deactivated, being sources of poison for everyone around.
Every year, Romanians have registered significantly more used cars than new cars, even if the trend of scrap imports is now a downward one.
Add to this equation the fact that most of the time spent by a car in traffic is with the engine idling, which even turns modern cars into green bombs. Vouchers are given in vain for new cars if they are not at all unhealthy for the environment in a city where traffic is moving at less than 18 km / h, in nervous jumps with drivers pressing the accelerator pedal to the maximum, only to then apply the brake 200 meters further along the road. This leads to brake and tyre wear which in themselves produce the fine particulate matter PM2.5.
The creation of a system of dozens of sensors for real-time measurement of air quality, located in both congested and residential areas is required before decisions can be made with regards to new rules and regulations.
In the first phase, it would be possible to collaborate with the already existing networks, after their calibration is verified. Subsequently, Romania should have its own network with thousands of sensors, especially in big cities, in both the residential areas and also the industrialised zones. An urban anti-pollution strategy must be built on real data.
Air pollution is a major cause of illness and premature death and poses the greatest risk to environmental health in Europe. Heart disease and stroke are the most common causes of premature death attributed to air pollution, followed by lung disease and lung cancer.
From the smog felt in cities to the polluted air inside the house (from cooking, electric heating, lighting), air pollution is a major threat to health and climate. Combined, air pollution (outdoor) and indoor air pollution kill approximately 7 million people worldwide each year. Data provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that 9 out of 10 people breathe air that contains high levels of pollutants.
Over 80 per cent of people living in urban areas where air pollution is monitored are exposed to pollution levels that exceed the WHO guidelines, which are set for each type of pollutant.
Over the past 30 years, researchers have discovered a wide range of health effects that are thought to be associated with exposure to air pollution. These include respiratory diseases (including asthma and changes in lung function), cardiovascular disease, premature birth and even death.
The effects of air pollution on health depend not only on exposure but also on human vulnerability. Vulnerability to the impact of air pollution may increase as a result of age, pre-existing health conditions or the particular behaviours of each person. A large body of evidence suggests that people with lower socioeconomic status tend to live in environments with poorer air quality.