4.1 Air pollution

4.1 Air pollution

The status of atmospheric air pollution over the Russian part of the Lake Baikal basin is defined by the regional/transboundary transfer and redistribution of pollutants, as well as the impact of anthropogenic emission sources [1,2]. Industries and transport of Irkutsk-Cheremhovo industrial hub have the main impact on the air quality within the Irkutsk part of the Lake Baikal basin (pic. 4.1.1).

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Pic. 4.1.1 Atmospheric air condition [3]

Climatic and geographical features of the region, i.e. its continental location, frequent anti-cyclones in winter, low temperatures and low precipitation during winter, significantly reduce the ability of the atmosphere to clean itself.

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Pic. 4.1.2  Self-purification capacity of the atmosphere of Baikal basin [3]

The indicators characterizing the speed of dispersal of impurities over the basin area are 2-3 times lower than the same indicators, for example, for European Russia. Frequent recurrences of adverse situations characterize the cold half of the year, when strong temperature inversions combined with weak winds contribute to high levels of pollution in cities and industrial centers. The conditions also lead to the reduced intensity of regional air transfer processes (over distances greater than 80-100 km), which, in turn, reduces the area affected by the emission sources.

The assessment of levels and trends of atmospheric air pollution is made on the basis of regular observations by the Federal Agencies «Irkutsk Center for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring» («Irkutsk CHEM») and «Buryat Center for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring» («Buryat CHEM»). Among the parameters defining the magnitude of air pollution are the concentrations of particulate matter, benzopyrene, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and formaldehyde, as well as specific pollutants - hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, hydrogen fluoride and chlorine (pic. 4.1.3 and 4.1.4).

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Pic. 4.1.3 Dynamics of pollutant emissions into the atmosphere by the subjects of the Russian Federation for 2007-2013

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Pic. 4.1.4 The ratio of the volume of emissions of air pollutants on the subjects of the Russian Federation in 2013

In 2013, the atmospheric air quality within Lake Baikal Natural Territory did not change significantly compared with 2012 [2]. The air pollution level in the settlements within the Central Ecological Zone of the Lake Baikal Natural Territory – Baikalskoe, Slyudyanka, Kultuk, and Listvyanka – remained low. Within the Buffer Ecological Zone of the Territory, the air pollution levels in Ulan-Ude city and the village of Selenginsk were defined to be «very high» (in 2012, the level was as «very high» in the village of Selenginsk and «high» in Ulan-Ude city).

Within the Irkutsk part of the basin, the air pollution monitoring is routinely conducted in four settlements – Baikalsk, Slyudyanka, Kultuk and Listvyanka. The level of air pollution in Baikalsk was characterized as low (API = 1) in 2012, similarly to the previous year. The average annual level of benzopyrene exceeded its Maximum Permissible Concentration (MPC) by 1.6 times (in 2011, the threshold was exceeded 1.6-fold). The highest average monthly concentration of benzopyrene reached 3.0 MPC (in 2010, the level also reached 3.0 MPC). The maximum one-time concentration of hydrogen sulfide reached 1.3 MPC (in 2011 the level was 1.1 MPC), while the maximum one-time concentration of carbon disulfide was 3.0 MPC (in 2011 the level was 3.0 MPC). The maximum one-time concentration of methyl mercaptan did not exceed the MPC. Thus, the air pollution in Baikalsk increased moderately in 2012.

The level of air pollution in the settlements Sludyanka, Listvyanka and Kultuk was found to be low, similar to the previous years. The average annual concentrations of particulate matter exceeded the sanitary threshold in Sludyanka (by 1.2 times) and Kultuk (by 1.3 times), while the average annual concentration of nitrogen dioxide in Listvyanka exceeded the threshold by 1.2 times. The maximum one-time concentrations of particulate matter in Kultuk and Slyudyanka exceeded the MPC by 2.8 and 3.4 times, respectively. The maximum one-time concentration of nitrogen dioxide in Listvyanka exceeded the MPC by 3.8 times. The maximum one-time concentrations of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and heavy metals within the Central Economic Zone (CEZ) did not exceed the MPCs in 2011. In Listvyanka, the maximum one-time concentrations of nitrogen dioxide increased between 2011 and 2012 when they were equal to 1.3 MPC and 3.8 MPC, respectively.

In the Republic of Buryatia, in the north-eastern part of the basin, surveillance of air pollution is carried out in four settlements (Ulan-Ude, Gusinoozersk, Kyahta, and Selenginsk), where 7 fixed stations of the air pollution monitoring network are located. The observation results show that the level of air pollution is characterized as «very high» in Selenginsk, «high» in Ulan-Ude city (pic. 4.1.5) and «low» in the towns of Kyahta and Gusinoozersk. Average annual concentrations of particulate matter in Ulan-Ude, Gusinoosersk and Kyahta were higher than the MPCs. In the village of Selenginsk, the levels of benzopyrene, formaldehyde and phenol exceeded the MPCs, while in Ulan-Ude city the exceedances were observed for benzopyrene, nitrogen dioxide, and formaldehyde. The concentrations of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide remained below the MPCs everywhere. In all the settlements, the maximum concentrations of three or more pollutants exceeded the MPCs.

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Pic. 4.1.5 Frequency of daily MPC exceedances for nitrogen dioxide in Ulan-Ude

in December [3]

In the village of Selenginsk, the average annual concentration of benzopyrene was equal to 4 MPC and the maximum one-time concentration was equal to 10.4 MPC. In Ulan-Ude, the same parameters were equal to 2.8 MPC and 8.2 MPC, respectively. The high level of air pollution is due to emissions from industries, thermal power stations, emissions from motor vehicles, as well as natural dust. Climatic and topographic conditions of the two locations are very unfavorable for dispersion of pollutants and facilitate their accumulation in the lower layers of atmosphere.

Over the five-year period between 2008 and 2012, concentrations of the following pollutants increased: benzopyrene, formaldehyde and particulate matter in Selenginsk; suspended solids, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide in Kyahta; particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in Gusinoozersk.

According to the annual State Reports «On the State and the Environment of the Russian Federation», until 2010, Ulan-Ude city had been included in the so-called Priority List of the Russian cities with the highest level of air pollution. Since 2010, Ulan-Ude is not in the list. The main sources of air pollution in Ulan-Ude are the industries, such as the thermal and electric power generating enterprise «Generation Buryatia» of JSC «TGC-14» with its two central heating plants CHP-1 and CHP-2 (pic. 4.1.6); Ulan-Ude locomotive and carriage repair plant - branch of «Zheldorremmash», and JSC «Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant», as well as rail and road transport.

Pic. 4.1.6  Air pollution from CHP-1in Ulan-Ude city

In Selenginsk, the high level of air pollution is mainly due to emissions from JSC «Selenginsk Pulp and Paper Mill» (SPPM) (pic. 4.1.7) and rail transport. The main air polluters in the town of Gusinoozersk are JSC «Gusinoozersk Electric and Thermal Power Station», heating plants, rail and road transport. The main sources of air pollution in the town of Kyahta are a cantonment with its own infrastructure, heating plants, and road transport.

Pic. 4.1.7. Infrastructure of  Selenginsk Pulp and Paper Mill

In Zabaikalskiy Kray, monitoring of air pollution is carried out in the town of Petrovsk-Zabaikalskiy. In 2012, the air pollution level was characterized as high. Benzopyrene concentrations were notably high with the annual average concentration exceeding the MPC by 3.3 times and the maximum of the monthly averages exceeding the MPC by 6.2 times. The levels of other monitored pollutants were not so high. The maximum one-time concentrations of carbon monoxide and particulate matter exceeded their MPCs by 2.8 and 2.2 times, respectively.

Thus, in 2012, the air quality in large settlements of the Russian part of the Lake Baikal basin did not change significantly when compared with 2011.

Since 2011, the national air monitoring network of Mongolia consists of 36 monitoring posts located in Ulaanbaatar city and aimag centers (table 4.1.1) [2].

Table 4.1.1 Pollutants monitored at monitoring posts of the national air quality monitoring network.

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In Mongolia, 65.4% of the country’s population lives within the Selenga river basin. There is notable air pollution in the big settlements within the basin - Ulaanbaatar, Darkhan, Erdenet, Buren, Tsetserleg, Bulgan, and Sukhbaatar. The air pollution in Ulaanbaatar city is particularly significant (pic. 4.1.8).

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Pic. 4.1.8 Dust pollution of atmospheric air in Ulaanbaatar city [3]

The main sources of pollution are about 180 thousand gers in the city that use wood and coal for cooking and heating (pic. 4.1.9). The transport is the fasted growing sector contributing to the air pollution – in 2013, there were 257 498 vehicles registered in Ulaanbaatar city, more than 70% of which were 10 or more years old. Other large sources of pollution are coal-fueled power plants, heating stations, brick kiln operations, and dust emissions from unpaved roads, open soil surfaces and construction works.

Pic. 4.1.9 Gers in Khoroolol of Ulaanbaatar city

National Agency for Meteorology, Hydrology and Environmental Monitoring is responsible for air pollution monitoring in Mongolia. Its tasks include identification of the problems, collection of all data/information from the air quality monitoring network, and creation of an integrated database for analysis and information sharing.

The most typical urban pollutants include suspended particulate matter (SPM), sulfur dioxide (SO2) (table 4.1.2), volatile organic compounds, lead (Pb), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Among these pollutants, particulate matter (PM) represents the greatest threat to human health.

The air pollution in the city of Ulaanbaatar is particularly severe in winter, when coal and wood are burned for heating. The topography of the city further exacerbates the problem. Ulaanbaatar is situated in a valley, surrounded by mountains (Bogd Khan mountain in the south, Songinokhairkhan mountain in the west, Chingeltei mountain in the north, and Bayanzurkh mountain in the east), which limits the dispersion of pollutants. In addition, frequent temperature inversions occur whereby cold air near the ground is trapped by warmer air above, sometimes for several days, keeping the pollution trapped [2].

The city’s annual average level of fine particulate matter (PM2.5 – particles with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 µm) is the highest in the world [4]. Average levels of PM2.5 in Ulaanbaatar regularly exceed 300 µg/m3 during winter. The corresponding levels of respirable suspended particles (PM10 – particles with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 10 µm) are second highest among 1099 cities from 91 countries. Fine particulate matter can penetrate deep into the lungs and has been shown to contribute to adverse health outcomes, particularly conditions related to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Table 4.1.2 Average annual levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide within the Selenga river basin in 2013

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A legal environment has been formed to establish a separate fund for protecting atmosphere. The «Clean Air Fund» became operational since January 1, 2011, after the endorsement of Law on Air by State Great Khural in 2010. Measures for improving air quality in Ulaanbaatar are being taken, such as provision of improved fuel and fuel-saving stoves to the households with individual stoves, establishment of green zones along the valleys of the rivers Tuul, Selbe and Uliastai, expansion of small parks in the city center, promoting use of gas for heating and cooking in ger districts, reduction of pollution from vehicles, and raising the public awareness on importance of reducing air pollution.

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