Cars are a major source of air pollution. A fleet of large and active vehicles running on traditional fuel (mopeds, cars and lorries) contributes to smog formation. Is there any practical way to reduce car exhaust and smog in Poland?
What is smog?
Emissions from the exhaust of combustion vehicles include carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, among others, which are released into the atmosphere in significant volumes. Harmful emissions do not only originate from cars and other road vehicles. They also come from other transport (planes, ships and trains), industry, and even small businesses and households that burn coal.
The smoke and dust particles released into the atmosphere become components of smog, i.e. thick, heavy fog. For this reason, the most populated urban areas suffer from the most pollution and the worst air quality.
Smog often forms in windless conditions when harmful chemical compounds enter the atmosphere. These include sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides, solids such as particulate matter, and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
Due to the place and different conditions of formation, two types of smog are distinguished:
- the London smog – its formation usually occurs during the heating season (from the turn of October to March). It also includes sulphur (IV) oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon oxides, soot, and hardly falling dust.
- the Los Angeles type smog (the so-called photochemical smog) – occurs in the summer months and mainly consists of gases: carbon oxides, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. It is most often observed in very crowded and urbanised cities, e.g. Warsaw or Kraków.
Exhausts from vehicles and smog have harmful effects on human health. Epidemiological studies comparing urban areas (highly polluted) and rural regions (low level of pollution) show that the increase in respiratory diseases and other disorders is related precisely to the poor air quality in Poland and is caused by smog.
What are the dangers of smog?
The effects of air pollution and smog vary from person to person. A healthy adult exposed to smog for a short time or in small doses may not suffer from long-term problems. However, in the long term, they may complain of respiratory irritation or breathing difficulties during exercise or outdoor activities. The situation is different for people with heart or respiratory diseases. For them, even a small dose or short exposure to harmful dust can aggravate symptoms. More prolonged exposure or higher doses can lead to serious illness. When living in poor air quality zones, our health suffers, the respiratory system fails, and the whole body slowly weakens. Possible effects include:
- irritation of the eyes, nose and throat
- asthma and shortness of breath
- fatigue and tiredness
- susceptibility to infections/weakened immunity
- respiratory and circulatory insufficiency
- heart and lung disease
In the long term, these changes can be irreversible and even lead to death as nothing happens without a cause. Children and the elderly are more susceptible to air pollution than others. They can endure severe effects even at lower pollution levels.
Environmental impact of vehicle exhaust and smog
Air pollution from combustion contributes to smog and poor air quality, which negatively affects our health and the well-being of all citizens and the ecosystem. Currently, passenger cars and other combustion vehicles are some of the leading causes of air pollution in Poland. According to Supreme Audit Office data, the situation is particularly bad in pollution with particulate matter PM 10 and PM 2.5 and with the compounds most toxic for health, i.e. polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon oxides. Passenger cars are responsible for 60.7% of all CO2 emissions from road transport in Europe. That brings about environmental degradation. Carbon dioxide directly contributes to the greenhouse effect, melting glaciers, flooding and drought. In addition, ecosystems are destroyed by acid rain, and animals suffer.
The regularly updated European emissions standards aim to improve the situation. Work is currently underway on EURO 7. New cars could in future emit as little as 30 mg of NOx per km; in another scenario, even as little as 10 mg/km. The current limits are 60 mg/km for petrol engines and 80 mg/km for diesel engines. The release of carbon monoxide (CO) into the atmosphere would be reduced more than threefold: from 1,000 mg to 300 mg.
Composition of automotive exhaust
Exhaust gases are waste substances from the engine. Their emissions are the main reason for exceeding the acceptable concentrations of toxic and carcinogenic substances in the atmosphere of large cities and causing smog. The volume of pollution emitted into the air by vehicles is determined by the mass emission of gases and the composition of exhaust gases.
Attention should be paid to the main products of fuel combustion and their impact on humans and the environment. According to the analysis for Inter Cars, these are:
- carbon monoxide – toxic effect on humans and animals
- sulphur oxides – irritation of the respiratory system, acid rain, destruction of catalysts
- nitrogen oxide – respiratory system irritation, formation of acid rain, smog, participation in the destruction of the ozone layer
- hydrocarbons – carcinogenic effects, contribution to the greenhouse effect, smog
- aldehydes – irritating effects on organisms, smog
- lead and other metal compounds – toxic effect on flora and fauna, disturbance of the microelement balance in water and soil
- dust and soot – carcinogenic effects, acid rain. Often, smog is formed from the particulate matter in the air.
Nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide are neutral for man. However, the latter occurs in excess and is harmful to the environment. It causes the greenhouse effect and consequently climate change, natural disasters and smog.
How can you protect yourself from exhaust smog?
In order to protect yourself from smog and the effects of inhaling harmful substances associated with air pollution, it is worth using specific technical solutions. They eliminate the causes of air pollution and weaken the different types of smog. These can be:
- optimisation of the fuel combustion process (use of additives)
- development of fuels with reduced sulphur and metal content
- reducing the ash, sulphur and aromatic hydrocarbon content in fuels
- catalytic reduction of nitrogen oxides in combustion products, use of DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter)
- use of electric and hybrid cars.
Of course, if the smog is hanging over your city and you simply want to protect yourself or your children from potential health effects, merely limit your stay outside, especially at midday and during peak traffic hours. Avoid unnecessary car journeys in towns and cities, and don’t rev up or leave the engine running for long periods outside on cold days or in traffic jams. It will help protect the environment and not increase air pollution.
Clean transport zones in Poland
The increase in air pollution and smog in Poland has prompted the government to prepare a project to introduce mandatory clean transport zones. This decision is mainly due to the appeal from large cities’ residents and the Electromobility Act and their concerns about the impact of harmful substances on humans and the environment.
The clean transport zone is to protect against smog. It will be established wherever the Chief Inspector of Environmental Protection finds that particulate matter and other substances have exceeded the permissible concentration level responsible for smog. Subsequently, the municipality in question will have to establish such a smog-free zone within a maximum of 12 months from the measurement. After that, drivers of electric, hydrogen and natural gas-powered cars with a special sticker issued by a vehicle inspection station will be able to enter the zone for free.
Cars with combustion engines will be permitted to enter it for a fee, which is to amount to a maximum of PLN 2.5 per hour, but it will also depend on the emission standard, which is to protect against smog:
- Euro 4 – only until 2024.
- Euro 5 – until 2030 at the latest.
- Euro 6 – by 2035.
Residents or employees of cities with such zones will also be able to buy a monthly subscription to enter, which should cost 500 PLN.
Electric cars and smog
Electric vehicles are the hope that smog will disappear from Polish cities. Their promotion aims to increase awareness of the carbon footprint and its reduction by eliminating the emission of harmful gases while driving. Fully electric vehicles do not emit any air pollutants during their operation, so it is worth considering such a solution if you truly care about the environment. Besides, the sheer convenience of driving anywhere in the city and even park for free is very encouraging.