The non-profit organization „Senzorvzduchu“ [Air sensor – red.] scientifically monitored the concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air in Prague for a year. The results show alarming levels of this dangerous pollutant. The NO2 levels in all areas of the capital city where measuring devices were placed exceed Czech and European standards as well as recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The research was conducted at 20 locations in Prague for one year, from February 2022 to January 2023. It was the first extensive and long-term measurement with the help of citizens‘ participation. The research was carried out using samplers – plastic tubes left in the outdoor environment for a certain period of time. These samplers absorbed NO2 from the air like a sponge. Every month, they were exchanged for new ones. Scientists from the Passam AG laboratory in Switzerland analyzed the absorption of NO2 in the collected samples.
A total of 240 samplers were placed at selected locations in Prague from February 2022 to January 2023, with 20 samplers at each location for approximately one month. Their placement followed the requirements of the EU directive – with a distance from intersections, at breathing height, and with a distance from larger obstacles.
Since February 2022, NO2 values that exceeded the WHO recommendations and Czech standards by four times were recorded at 14 out of 20 monitoring locations in Prague. The standards are set for an annual average of 40 μg/m³ NO2. The measured values ranged from 25 μg/m³ to the highest measured value of 66 μg/m³. All 20 locations had average annual NO2 concentrations higher than 30 μg/m³, which is at least three times the WHO recommendation. EU standards will even become stricter due to ongoing revisions, with a horizon for compliance until 2030 set to be established at 20 μg/m³.
Every year in Prague, NO2 causes hundreds of premature deaths. The situation in Prague is the worst in the Czech Republic. Since 2016, the European Commission has been actively engaging the city of Prague about the violations of legal limits: „In the Czech Republic, the annual limit values for NO2 were exceeded in the Prague agglomeration, and there is currently no valid air quality plan for the Prague agglomeration.“
The level of NO2 measured around schools, public institutions, and hospitals is alarming. Air pollution particularly endangers children and people with health problems.
The authors of the report, from Senzorvzduchu, state: „No effort is being made in our capital to improve air quality, the introduction of a low-emission zone (NEZ) that restricts the entry of the most polluting vehicles was rejected, and the introduction of a toll system is not in sight. We are calling on municipalities in the Prague area to increase the number of pedestrian streets, especially near schools. We recommend expanding space for active and shared mobility, accelerating the electrification of vehicles necessary for people living, working, or passing through, and increasing communication about the danger of air pollution and the available solutions to fight it.„
We asked Prague City Hall for a response to the presented findings, including a question about Prague’s plans to reduce air pollution. We did not receive a response before publication, and we will add it to the text if we receive it later.
As the press spokesman for Prague City Hall, Vít Hofman, later stated in response to the article, Prague has several approved strategic documents aimed at improving air quality. These include the Air Quality Improvement Program (PZKO 2020+), the Territorial Energy Concept, the Climate Plan, and the Sustainable Mobility Plan.
According to the municipality, the biggest polluters in Prague are automotive traffic and local solid fuel heating. Additionally, the situation has been stable and good in the past three years. According to the city, none of the monitored pollutants exceeded emission limits at any automated monitoring station in Prague, except for summer ground-level ozone. From the perspective of monitored pollutants, air quality has been below the limit level throughout Prague in the past three years, with a tendency to improve, according to the municipality.
Regarding criticism from the „Senzorvzduchu“ association, Vít Hofman added that the attempt to introduce a low-emission zone did not find support in the law or from the municipal districts. Improving air quality also involves an ongoing project to plant trees. Public transport in Prague is also striving to reduce emissions by purchasing electric buses, transitioning to gas fuels, and preparing and implementing new railway tracks. The Prague Renewable Energy Community is realising energy savings in Prague’s buildings and building photovoltaic power plants to prepare for community-based energy.
Other measures against air pollution listed by the municipality include financial support for low-income households to replace solid fuel boilers as part of boiler subsidies, as well as replacing old gas boilers as part of the Clean Energy Prague program. Additionally, new parks are being created, there are adaptation measures for the years 2020 to 2024, new trees are being planted, and electric vehicles for urban organizations and car-sharing are being supported. The municipality refers to its websites for more information and completed and planned projects (zastromujprahu.cz, portalzp.praha.eu and klima.praha.eu).
The purpose of the „Senzorvzduchu“ association’s campaign is:
The association’s measurements are one of many activities carried out in the capital city, with other measurements conducted by the Center for Environmental Health in 2019 and 2021, as well as Sensor.Community volunteers in 2020. The „Senzorvzduchu“ association selected locations based on previous measurements to ensure they were representative.