Monday, February 22, 2010

Air pollution in Estonia

Two recently published e-publications on air pollution from 1990 to 2007 show that air pollution emissions have decreased in Estonia. All air pollution emissions have decreased in 2007 compared to 1990. This has mainly resulted from the restructuring of economy and changes in proprietary relations in Estonia since regained independence. Air pollution emissions have also decreased due to stricter requirements in legal acts concerning environment (limit values, requirements on fuel quality etc), which entered into force in Estonia after becoming members of the European Union. Compared to 2003, most air pollution emissions analysed in the survey decreased by 2007, except for CO (on the same level) and heavy metals, which have increased by 10%. Majority of pollutants are emitted in Harju and Ida-Viru county, where most of the polluting enterprises are located.

Pollutants emitted by transport and industry have a significant effect on the quality of ambient air. Acidification is caused by emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitric oxide – these compounds react to water vapor in the atmosphere and fall down as acid rain. The main sources of sulphur and nitrogen are industry and power production, although most of nitric oxide is emitted by transport.

In addition to nitric oxide and sulphur dioxide many hazardous substances like heavy metals, sulphur hydrogen, ammonia, formaldehyde, particulate matter etc. are emitted by industries. Within the EU, limits on atmospheric release and concentration are established for hazardous substances and acidifying gases.

Air pollution damages public health, causing e.g. respiratory diseases or allergic symptoms. It also affects the condition of landscapes, water and damages buildings.
In recent years, an increase in concentrations of NO2 has been observed in Tallinn and Kohtla-Järve (Ida-Viru county) due to upsurge in road transportation. Concentration of sulphur dioxide has remained low and shows a decreasing trend as a result of positive effects due to use of sulphur-free fuels and cutting of emissions from point sources. Most problematic is the concentration of particulate matter (PM10) – the limit values are often exceeded in the monitoring stations of Tallinn and Kohtla-Järve.

The quantity of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds emitted by stationary and mobile sources of pollution has decreased by 59% and 51% respectively, compared to 1990.

Greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 54% by 2005 in comparison with 1990. Estonia is among ten biggest per capita emitters of carbon dioxide in the world. Estonia emitted 12.2 tons of carbon dioxide per capita in 2005. The main cause for higher carbon dioxide emission is energy production based on fossil fuels. In 2005, the oil-shale related carbon dioxide emissions accounted for 71% of the total carbon dioxide emission. The emission of carbon dioxide caused by fuel combustion activities decreased 55% by 2005 compared to 1990.

The stability and continuity of the decrease in emission rates have been secured by environmental legislation promoting installation of modern filter systems and adopting environmentally friendly techniques.


Elisabet Arge, Tiina Seppel 12A

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