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

27.11.2018 - OSTRAVA
Vice-Rector of the Ostrava University, Jelena Petrucijová at the conference
PHOTO: Majda Slámová / ARNIKA

The four-day international conference ‘Fighting Air Pollution in the Industrial Cities of Europe’, organized by Arnika Association from the Czech Republic, was held in Ostrava. The adopted declaration appeals to intergovernmental organizations, the governments and public authorities of Europe and former Soviet Union countries to take actions in solving air pollution, one of the great existential challenges of humankind killing 4.5 million people every year.

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 also future generations,” states the document formulating essential conditions for improving the situation throughout the region (1).

“In many countries, citizens don’t 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, the lack of interest of politicians, or too much influence of industry. Arnika wants to share the experience the Czech Republic has undergone over the past three decades with the civic activists in 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 crucial problems and urges the governments to deal with them: reliable measuring systems of the air quality, public access to such data, implementation of the EU standards to reduce the pollution, public participation in decision-making and enforcement of the law. No public funding should be approved to environmentally harmful industries. The document also calls to avoid using double standards of the 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 the 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 NGO Ecoaction concludes. Participants also expressed their concerns over increasing number of harassment 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 the 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 Lemeš, a Bosnian-Herzegovinian environmentalist. “We all should have the same rights and one of them is the right for healthy and non-toxic air to breathe,” president of the Eko Forum 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 black snow from the ArcelorMittal Temirtau steel mill. Participants from Ukraine described the life in shadows of one of Europe's dirtiest steelworks located in the industrial cities 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 improvement possible together with an active approach of the public authorities and strict requirements of the European Union. Although the Ostrava region is still one of the most polluted in the EU, the emissions from local metallurgical enterprises have dropped to a half thanks to demands of 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, the director of Karaganda EcoMuseum, 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 the reliable measuring systems of the air quality;
  • to ensure the public access to data on air pollution;
  • implementation of the EU standards to reduce the emissions;
  • to enforce public participation in decision making;
  • functional state control over the compliance with law;
  • full stop of the public funding approved to environmentally harmful investments;
  • to avoid using double standards of the multinational corporations in different countries.

(3) Mariupol city council deputy, Maksym Borodin has recently won a Ukrainian TV show providing him with one million hryvnias (EUR 31,750) for 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 Centre: “In many countries, citizens don’t 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, the lack of interest of politicians, or too much influence of industry. Arnika wants to share the experience the Czech Republic has undergone over the past three decades with the civic activists in 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 not only at national level.”

MUDr. Radim Šrám, DrSc., Chairman of the Environment Commission of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic: “Over the last decade, the spectrum of air pollutants 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 much improved. In the Moravian-Silesian Region, which I personally watch for a long time, the situation is different. In the towns of Poruba and Karviná, for example, the concentration of benzo(a)pyrene decreases but there is an increase in Radvanice - Bartovice, which is probably caused byf 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 successfully coping with its industrial history and its associated environmental burden. Although we still can’t say that all air pollution problems are resolved, we are on the right track and other regions could follow our example. Investments into the environmental technologies in industry caused that in the last 15 years the emissions of solid pollutants have dropped by about a half. But we continue in our efforts; we want to replace all unsuitable boilers in our homes and to 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. However, I am convinced that our efforts and determination will be a real change for the Moravian-Silesian Region so that is no longer called dirty and dirty as it has been so far.”

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 thirty years ago. However, we still do not breathe clean air. Simple solution does not exist, pollution causes more impacts. 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 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 on trips to 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 the Department of Environmental Protection in Industry of the 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. Once this effect is “removed”, the trend of improvement for all significant pollutants in most 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 to continue 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. Impact of possible measures for improvement will also be demonstrated by the Air Quality Management System, developed in the international Air Tritia project. It is also necessary to consider the time horizon of the long-declared restructuring of the heavy industry in the Ostrava region.”

RNDr. Jindřich Petrlík, Head of Arnika Program - Toxic and Waste Program: “In most of the Czech Republic, the biggest source of air pollution is either automobile traffic or a local furnace, where they have not yet replaced coal with less problematic heating. The Ostrava region is one of the exceptions; industrial plants remain an important source of pollution. People from the 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 tool 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, and big multinational companies use it, in some cases it can be said to be abusive.”

Mgr. Matěj Mrlina, Air Protection Department, Ministry of Environment of the Czech Republic: “My presentation mainly focused on the legislation that deals with air protection, briefly mentioning international sources, European legislation and national regulations. Legal instruments in air protection can also be divided into groups. I focused mainly on the permissible levels and statutory obligations together with conceptual, administrative, economic and special tools, all concluded with the technical part – 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):  “Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) has been implemented into the national legislation of the Czech Republic in February 2013. The key principles of integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) have been set already in March 2002 by implementing the former IPPC Directive. Integrated permitting started in the Czech Republic in January 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 the Regional Department of the Czech Hydro-meteorological Institution (ČHMÚ) 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, analyses 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 concerning ambient air quality and 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 pollution harmful to human health and to 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 to 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’: condemn themselves, their children and the entire territory, in which they were born, to die of pollution so as not to die of hunger.”

Rafał Psik, Zagłębiowski Smog Alert, Poland: “Poland, as a part of the EU, did recently a lot of improvement in the reduction of emissions from Power Generation and Industrial sector. Still, some industrial spots remain and are troublemakers for local communities, like coking plants, steel mills or paper productions. But main pollution problem in Poland comes from coal, wood and waste burning at households. Over 50% PM10 emissions and over 90% of carcinogenic benzo(a)pyrene comes from small burners at citizens’ houses across the country. Recently, many local groups started activities to press the local and central government to take actions to improve air quality. Paper will describe air pollution current status 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 - a legislative change is needed. International cooperation is the key for our country. Environmental online monitoring needs to be available to the public. There have to be 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 vastly polluted 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 Armenian 'Velvet Revolution'. The new government balances between environmental and social problems in Alaverdi, facing a significant pressure of the factory management.”

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

Pippa Gallop, Research Coordinator, CEE Bankwatch Network: ”The presentation will share CEE Bankwatch Network's experience of trying to ensure that a series of public loans to ArcelorMittal in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina were used to ensure real environmental and safety improvements on the ground. By uniting with groups from the recipient countries to ensure constantly updated information, Bankwatch pushed the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to make sure that its loans were used for their intended purpose. The workshop will also share ideas about what new activities that could be undertaken regarding international financing of  heavy industry.”

Maksym Soroka: researcher of the 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 presented the problems of air monitoring from different points of view – position of regulatory authorities, enterprises, local governments and the public, together with the mechanisms of formation and verification of statistical data about air pollutions in Ukraine, as well as the 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): ”Having received information from activists of Dnipro and Zaporizhia, Olena Reshetko - a former accountant - began to look for information on the risks to public health 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 an occurrence of cancer-like diseases and the distance of people's accommodation from industrial enterprises due to being exposed to hazardous chemicals - hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, dioxin - from the Kharkiv Coke Plant and mineral wool plant Thermolife.”

Anna Ambrosova, Stop poisoning Kryvyi Rih (Ukraine): “The large industrial city of Kryvyi Rih in the centre of Ukraine is often nicknamed as the 'Steel Heart' of the country. The largest enterprise of the city is PJSC ArcelorMittal Kryvyi Rih (AMKR). That it is the source of 80% of emissions into the atmospheric air in the city, 40% - in the Dnipropetrovsk region. After 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 so many experts in one city of Ostrava. The whole community has been discussing the different legislative bases, with completely different economic and political conditions in each country. However, we share common problems – the polluted air, 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 the profit. Some positive examples could 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. Disregarding any sort of technological optimization, the environmental situation in Mariupol deteriorated significantly in 2011-2012, caused a series of mass protests. As a result, Metinvest was forced to shut down part of the outdated enterprises and start with the modernization of the facilities. Despite this one-time victory, local activists lack political influence necessary for any further or even global environmental changes. Will they succeed in their goal changing the ecology of not only Mariupol but also other industrial cities of Ukraine?

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

Petra Andrášik, lawyer of the Frank Bold Society (CZ): “The presentation will show tools in three EU directives that are key to tackle air pollution. We are going to look at the tools in Air Quality Directive, National Emissions Ceiling Directive and Industrial Emissions Directive. Some tools are going to be presented in more detail with an overview of 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. Tomáš Mosler,Ph.D., head of air protection, ArcelorMittal Ostrava, Czech Republic: “ArcelorMittal Ostrava, established in 1951, is a leading steel producer in the Czech Republic producing more than 2 million tones of steel 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 has reduced its dust emission by 99% up to date compared to 1980s, from almost 40 thousand tones to 379 tones in 2017. Emissions of PAU have been reduced by 90% since 2009.”

International activities