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Human beings need good-quality air for health and well-being.

Air pollution occurs when there is a change in the composition of the Earth's atmosphere caused by the emission of physical, chemical or biological substances.

  • Dust and volcanic ash are natural air pollutants.
  • In the modern world, air pollution is caused by industrial activities, the burning of fossil fuels, waste treatment, intensive agriculture and other economic activities. Air pollution is harmful to human beings as well as to plants, animals and their natural habitats. It can even result in changes to the Earth’s climate.
  • Common air pollutants include sulphur dioxide, nitric oxides, carbon monoxide, lead, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds. Hazardous air pollutants include metals and metalloids such as cadmium, mercury and arsenic; respirable mineral fibres such as asbestos and glass microfibre; inorganic gases such as fluorides, chlorine, cyanide and phosgene; and organic compounds such as aldehydes, aromatic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and dioxins.
  • It was long believed that air pollutants, once released, would be diluted to negligible concentrations in the atmosphere. Measurements have shown this belief to be flawed. High concentrations of primary pollutants can occur within and around emission areas. Nearly all large particles are deposited locally. Local weather is an important factor in determining short-term pollution levels. However, local emissions may have regional and global implications.

Air pollution is harmful when:
  • aerosol particles and noxious gases enter the respiratory tract of human beings or animals or come into contact with the leaves of plants;
  • emissions to the atmosphere lead to the formation of acid rain that changes the chemical composition of soil and water;
  • it causes chemical reactions in the atmosphere, decreasing ozone concentrations and allowing UV-B radiation to reach the Earth; and
  • changes in the composition and temperature of the atmosphere result in unfavourable conditions for living organisms.

Air pollution is an urgent environmental problem in Belarus, as emissions per unit of territory are increasing. In the past five years, emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds rose by 8 percent; carbon monoxide by 6 percent; sulphur dioxide by 89 percent; and ammonia by 200 percent.

According to 2009 data:

  • the transport sector was responsible for 75 percent of all air pollution;
  • the main air pollutants emitted by transport were sulphur dioxide (1,400 tonnes), nitrogen oxides (109,800 tonnes), particulate matter (34,000 tonnes), carbon monoxide (777,800 tonnes), and volatile organic compounds (214,000 tonnes);
  • more than 20 percent of all air pollution in Belarus was in the form of hydrocarbons emitted by transportation; and
  • most transportation-related emissions were generated in Minsk and the Minsk region, while the lowest level of emissions was found in the Mogilev region.

Pollution from stationary sources

Most air pollution from stationary sources is emitted by the industrial, energy, housing and service sectors. According to 2009 data:

  • industry and energy accounted for 70 percent of total emissions, and housing and services for 14 percent;
  • the manufacturing industry was responsible for more than half of the total emissions of each pollutant, with the exception of hydrocarbons, around 50 percent of which originated from the housing and service sectors. Industry was a significant source of emissions of particulate matter, along with the housing and service sectors (over 10 percent) and agriculture (10 percent). The housing and service sectors accounted for about 20 percent of carbon monoxide emissions;
  • the main air pollutants emitted from stationary sources were sulphur dioxide (139,500 tonnes), nitrogen oxides (65,000 tonnes), ammonia (19,600 tonnes), particulate matter (46,000 tonnes), carbon monoxide (74,600 tonnes), volatile organic compounds (71,700 tonnes), cadmium (2 kg), lead (3.2 tonnes) and mercury (4 kg); and
  • gas treatment systems captured more than 2.5 tonnes of pollutants, and existing systems were between 82 and 88 percent efficient.

Urban pollution

Data from the air monitoring network in 2009 show that the average annual concentration of specific pollutants in cities in Belarus, as in previous years, was below the levels permitted by the state:

  • Levels in excess of the maximum permissible concentration (MPC) were measured in only 0.25 percent of the analysed samples. In most cases, the excess was between one and two times the MPC. No concentrations of any pollutant higher than 10 times the MPC were recorded.
  • In some cities, levels in excess of the daily MPCs for total particulate matter, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide were recorded. The level of sulphur dioxide remained consistently low: average annual and single maximum concentrations were far lower than the levels permitted by the state.
  • In the city of Mogilev, single MPCs were exceeded for the most extensive range of pollutants, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, phenol, ammonia and formaldehyde.
  • The status of the air in Babruysk, Grodno, Navahrudak, Svietlahorsk, Lida and Salihorsk, and in most of the monitored areas of Brest, Vitebsk, Minsk, Gomel, Mozyr and Pinsk was assessed as stable and good.
  • Compared with previous years, the number of problem areas in the industrial centres of Belarus fell by 22 percent. However, nitrogen dioxide pollution remained a problem in some areas of Mogilev, Polatsk and Novapolatsk; and formaldehyde pollution was a problem in Brest, Vitebsk, Orsha and Pinsk. Pollution by particulate matter has been a persistent problem for many years in cities in the southern part of Belarus, where large-scale land amelioration has been carried out (Gomel, Zhlobin, Mozyr, Rechica). In dry periods, maximum concentrations of total solids in these cities reached between two and six times the MPC. Two industrial districts in Minsk showed elevated levels of pollution with particulate matter.

Belarus has a well-developed legal framework and information system in the field of air protection.

  • The main legal act covering air protection is the Law on Environmental Protection (1992, revised in 2002). The Law on the Protection of the Atmospheric Air came into force in 2008.
  • In order to address medium-term objectives in the field of environment, five-year national action plans are developed and implemented to promote the rational use of natural resources and environmental protection.
  • The environmental tax, which includes fees for discharges of pollutants into the air and for the importing and manufacturing of products containing more than 50 percent volatile organic compounds, is one of the most important financial mechanisms employed for the protection of natural resources and environmental conservation.
  • Information is regularly gathered in Belarus on the status of air and surface waters. Most of this information can be found in the Yearbook on Air and Surface Water Pollution in the Territory of the Republic of Belarus.
  • Since 1991, the environment bulletin State of the Environment in Belarus has been published annually.  General information about environmental conditions can be found in a separate section of the annual statistical yearbook published by the National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus.