Ukrainian dust cloud hits air quality in Central Europe

Soaring concentrations of hazardous fine particles in Central Europe have been traced back to parched farmland left to gather dust to the east in the Ukraine.

In spring 2007 levels of particulate matter (known as PM10) reached almost 30 times the European average in parts of Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany.

Air quality specialists looking into the event now believe the dust originated from fallow land on Ukrainian farms and was carried west by unfavourable winds.

The research is important because it suggests that farming practices can have a far greater impact on regional, and even global, air quality than previously thought.

During March, 2007 concentrations of PM10 were measured between 200 and 1400 micrograms per cubic metre – the EU daily average limit is 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

Unseasonably strong, gusty winds, no precipitation for weeks and the fact that the Ukrainian soil is so fine all contributed to the problem.

Further research from scientists at Austrian and German universities demonstrated that the dust cloud had travelled several hundred miles and argue that the unexpected scale of the phenomenon showed a need for a better understanding of the processes that lead to the formation and transport of such large quantities of dust.

Dust from the Sahara has been seen as the cause of many similar events in Germany in the past.

Agricultural burning can have an even greater impact on air quality.

Elevated levels of particulate matter have previously been recorded as far west as the UK following widespread burning on the Russian steppes.

Sam Bond

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