Primary Source

Samizdat, Air Pollution

Annotation

Pollution from the Black Triangle was a tremendous source of water and air pollution in Eastern Europe, but it was not the only source. Heating systems that relied on coal power, and cars using leaded gas and lacking catalytic converters added to this immense problem, which especially plagued larger cities, including Prague.

Initially, the Czechoslovak Communist government—like others in Eastern European—tried to suppress public discussion about the state of the environment. Despite their best efforts, public discussion of environmental issues grew beginning in the 1970s. In Czechoslovakia the Brontosaurus Movement, a dissident group comprised largely of high school and university students, began calling for environmental protection in 1974. In the Spring of 1989 the Mothers of Prague, female dissidents concerned about their children, held a demonstration to protest the state of air quality in Prague and to call for wider access to information about environmental health. In Poland, the Polish Ecology Movement, which worked with Solidarity, started doing so 1980. The following document from the samizdat Lidové noviny belongs to the history of public calls for environmental protection in communist Eastern Europe.

This source is a part of the Everyday Life in Eastern Europe in the 1980s teaching module.

"Samizdat, Air Pollution," c. 1985, Making the History of 1989.

Text

Prague is indisputably a beautiful city. The location on the hillsides of the Vltava River's basin
gives her a special charm, which cities laying on flat ground usually lack. The dark side of this
position is, however, the poor ventilation of a large part of the city, especially the historic center.
The prevailing westerly wind courses across the valley of the Vltava and only partially washes
injurious matter from human activities into the atmosphere.

Prague's development is not respecting much the specifics given her by natural conditions.
In the consumption of fuel and energy in Prague solid fuels still amount to 36.2%, from which
sulfuric, dusty brown coal creates more than two-thirds. Liquid fuel (light and heavy heating oil,
from the burning of which is emitted into the air the compounds of sulphur and vanadium) amounts
to 17-l8% of the city's energy balance, gas fuel amounts to 34.8% and electrical energy for 13.6%.
Refined ecologically clean forms of energy (electrical energy, natural gas, and coal gas) are used in
pronounced measures in the outlaying parts of the city for the heating of the housing estates located
in a lump on the plateaus lining the Vltava valley, where the dispersion of injurious matter is better
than at the bottom. Further, the housing estates on the north face (Bohnice, áblice, and Prosek)
create an almost total barrier, essentially impairing the cleansing of the Prague basin by wind
coming from the North.

In the central part of the city the share of solid fuels is unbearably high (Prague 1: 45.8%;
Prague 2: 34.9%; Prague 3: 39.8%; and so on). Coal, coke and briquettes are burned here
exclusively in stoves and small furnaces without the removal of flue-ash and without contrivances
for removal of sulfur and nitrate; the toxic products of combustion then, as adverse meteorological
conditions, fall directly to the street. (At least large furnaces are altogether fitted with filters for ash
and tall chimneys, which make it easier to dilute combustion products in the air.) […]

On the whole in 1985 in the territory of Prague there was emitted from stable sources around
25,000 tons of ash, 66,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (S02), 19,300 tons of nitrous oxide (NO2), 29,000
tons of carbon monoxide, and 6,800 tons of various hydrocarbons. Compared to 1984 the total
emission of harmful substances increased about 3 to 3.5% as a result of the higher consumption of
fuel and energy and the worsening of the quality of coal; and this trend is continuing.
The average emissions of harmful substances from stabile sources are many times (or
extraordinarily) higher than in other parts of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. Only the average
emission of sulfur dioxide in northern Bohemia [in the Black Triangle region]…approaches the
average in Prague.

The second most significant factor directly contributing to the pollution of Prague's air is her
transportation system. The Metro does constitute the backbone of the city’s combined
transportation. Still, buses, personal cars, and freight trucks remain responsible for a large part of
the carrying of people, and they disturb the environment with gas fumes and noise. Annually they
release into Prague's air 56,000 tons of carbon monoxide, of which 3,200 tons of this significant
amount comes from oil. The amount of the emissions results not only from the density of
automobile transport, but also from an array of unresolved technical problems. Our automobiles are
not equipped with catalytic converters, which make possible the orderly reduction by a few levels of
harmful substances into the air. Nor is there sufficient gasoline with reduced amounts of oil, since
only a few pumps in Prague and central Bohemia are supplied with it…. The majority of highways
run through the center of the city (including the connection between Vienna and Berlin, which runs
past the National Museum, the Parliament Building and the Smetana Theatre), where there is the
greatest intensity of traffic. […]

[…] The level of lasting pollution in Prague's air is the highest level in Czechoslovakia (see
the table.

Average Annual Concentration of Sulfur Dioxide in Selected Regions of Czechoslovakia (ugm-3)
____________1970, 1975, 1980, 1985________
Chomutovsk: 53, 71, 94, 126
Mostecko: 57, 80, 102, 132
Teplicko: 51, 77, 93, 110
Ostravsko: 51, 36, 46, 55
Brnensko: 48, 29, 37, 42
Prague: 100, 100, 128, 155
Bratislava: 49, 67, 55, 60
Kosice: 27, 18, 25, 28

Credits

"Air Quality in Prague [Kvalita ovzduší v Praze]," trans. Cathleen M. Giustino, Lidové noviny, Duben 1988, p. 7.

How to Cite This Source
Samizdat, Air Pollution in World History Commons,