Air pollution control
Sustainable clean air policy is indispensable for protecting the health of humans, animals and plants as well as their habitats from long-term damage. So that particulate matter pollution, above all, can be reduced successfully, a variety of measures is required, especially in the transport sector, in industry and trade. Despite progress in vehicle exhaust technology, threshold values in the vicinity of roads are still exceeded today as a result of the constantly increasing volume of traffic.
In the 1980s the topic of “clean air” gained in significance due to dying forests and the dioxin problem. Since then a lot could already be achieved with some pollutants, such as a reduction of SO2 and of lead emissions by more than 90%, of emissions of dioxins and of polycyclical, aromatic hydrocarbons by more than 80%.
New scientific evidence and new measurement methods have raised awareness for the problem of particulate matter. For his reason more rigid limit values were adopted a few years ago. In order to achieve a considerable reduction of particulate matter, a great number of measures, in the transport sector, as well as in the fields of trade and industry and domestic heating is required.
As far as nitrogen oxides are concerned the need for reduction has also been a topic, as they are also ozone precursor substances. In spite of the progress achieved in the motor vehicle exhaust gas technology, the threshold values next to roads are still exceeded nowadays due to the permanently rising traffic volume.
Legal framework conditions
The main law on the protection of the air that we breathe the Air Pollution Control Act (Immissionsschutzgesetz-Luft IG-L) was adopted, after several years of negotiations between all interest groups, in 1997. In the case of exceedances of air pollution threshold values a so-called identification of the status quo has to be carried out, which investigated into the framework conditions and causes of the exceedance. On the basis of this survey the respective Provincial Governor in charge shall then establish a programme of measures, which can include measures in the fields of plants, transport as well as measures regarding substances and products. The programme aims at ensuring the compliance with the threshold values stipulated by the EU in the best possible way.
In terms of emissions the Emissions Ceiling Act - Air (Emissionshöchstmengengesetz-Luft EG-L) has laid down reduction goals for the most important air pollutants for the year 2010. Most recently the EU has adopted a Directive with goals for the years 2020 and 2030 which will also be incorporated in the Emissions Ceiling Act -Air. Emission threshold values for industrial plants and energy generators are laid down in the Industrial Code and in the Emissionsschutzgesetz für Kesselanlagen (EH_K) (Emission Control Act for Boilers).
In the transport sector, effective measures for air pollution control are speed limits, target-oriented driving bans, parking management systems, traffic avoidance and the shift to environmentally friendly means of transport, among others. In industry and trade, the best, available, state-of-the-art exhaust gas cleaning systems should be ensured, for example. For individual households, replacing outdated boilers with modern, low-emission heating systems and increasing energy efficiency through heat insulation and replacing windows, for example, is recommended.
Every individual can make an important contribution: for example, particularly on days with a high level of particulate matter pollution, by avoiding unnecessary car journeys, using public transport and covering short distances on foot or by bicycle. When heating with wood, outdated stoves, poor maintenance, incorrect operation and co-incineration of wastes lead to considerable pollutant emissions. The Heating correctly with wood) initiative offers helpful advice and information on this topic.
New Year’s Eve fireworks also represent significant environmental pollution for the population every year. Air quality measurements show that, in many places, on the first day of the new year, the air pollution with particulate matter that is dangerous to health is higher than on any other day throughout the year. Chemical analyses of the particulate matter also partly show strongly elevated levels of toxic metal oxides such as aluminium, lead, chromium, copper, strontium and zinc. It is therefore better not to use fireworks.
In Austria, the emissions of many pollutants have been declining significantly since the 1980s. In the case of some pollutants, however, the long-range, transboundary transport of air pollutants in the atmosphere contributes significantly to pollution in Austria, as in the case of particulate matter and ground-level ozone. At individual measuring points close to borders, there are occasionally also high levels of other pollutants, which are caused by local emission sources across the border.
For a number of air pollutants, the emissions in Austria are shown in the Austrian Air Pollution Inventory by the Environment Agency Austria. The “Emission trends” report provides details on emissions development, and is published on the website of the Environment Agency Austria and updated annually around the middle of the year. An up-to-date air quality report is produced by the Environment Agency Austria on a daily basis for the air pollutants nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. The Central Institution for Meteorology and Geodynamics (Zentralanstalt für Meteoroligie und Geodynamik, abbr. ZAMG) compiles a forecast every day of the air quality for the current day and the next two days.
Pollution by particulate matter is the environmental factor with the greatest negative impact on human health: from respiratory symptoms to the steady increase in asthmatic attacks to lung cancer. Furthermore, effects on the cardiovascular system are also assumed. The main causes are industry, small-scale furnaces, traffic and agriculture. Ultra-fine particles are also increasingly coming into focus regarding health concerns.
As a trace gas, ozone is a natural component of the atmosphere. In the ground-level air layer, it is formed under solar radiation from the so-called ozone precursors. As precursors, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, in particular, should be mentioned as well as carbon monoxide and methane. As a result of the human-induced increase in emissions of these substances, the concentration of ground-level ozone has also grown to such an extent in recent decades that it has become an environmental problem. At an increased concentration, it affects human health and leads to damage to vegetation through its direct influence. A distinction must be made between ground-level ozone and ozone at a height of over 15 kilometres – in the stratosphere. Ozone at this great height provides protection from short-wave ultraviolet radiation that is too intense on the ground. Therefore, it also protects from damage to health, such as skin cancer, among others.
The Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution
In the early days of clean air policy, it was almost exclusively the local and regional aspect of air pollutants that was initially perceived. At the latest, when the acidification of Scandinavian waters, the decline in the associated fish stocks and the forest dieback caused by acid rain were detected, it was, however, clear: Air pollutants know no national borders. In response, the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution was concluded in 1979, which provides a framework for political negotiations to combat transboundary air pollution. The signatory states committed to protecting humans and the environment by endeavouring to combat emissions of certain air pollutants and to establish a Europe-wide monitoring network.
Air pollution control is also, however, an important topic as regards interiors. A faultless indoor climate and good indoor air have been proven to have a positive effect on the human condition. Simple steps often help to improve the air quality significantly. The BMK also performs important work in this area, for example through guidelines, guides, specialist conferences and clearly prepared information material such as the “Wegweiser für eine gesunde Raumluft (PDF, 309 KB)” (Guide to healthy indoor air), which can be downloaded free of charge on the BMK website.