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Article

Air Quality and Industrial Emissions in the Cities of Kazakhstan

1
Excellence Center Veritas, D. Serikbayev East Kazakhstan Technical University, Ust-Kamenogorsk 070003, Kazakhstan
2
The School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, D. Serikbayev East Kazakhstan Technical University, Ust-Kamenogorsk 070003, Kazakhstan
3
Center of Physical-Chemical Methods of Research and Analysis, Al Farabi Kazakh National University, Almaty 050012, Kazakhstan
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Atmosphere 2021, 12(3), 314; https://doi.org/10.3390/atmos12030314
Received: 18 January 2021 / Revised: 20 February 2021 / Accepted: 22 February 2021 / Published: 28 February 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Air Pollution Estimation)

Abstract

:
Industrial emissions are of major concern, especially in developing countries. Hence, there is a need for studies that investigate the trends in industrial emissions in these countries. The purpose of this study is to discuss trends in industrial emissions in Kazakhstan and the air pollution level in its industrial cities. Data on emission limit values from the permitting documents of twenty-one power plants and nine metallurgical enterprises of Kazakhstan were analyzed. Eight cities (out of fourteen) had a “high” level of atmospheric air pollution according to the Air Pollution Index in 2019. Most of the considered enterprises increased their emission limit values compared to the previous permitting period. In some cities there is a lack of monitoring stations, indicating the need for improving the spatial coverage of the air quality monitoring network in the industrial cities of Kazakhstan. The location of industrial plants far outside the cities could reduce the exposure of the urban population to air pollution. Kazakhstan urgently needs to adopt stringent emissions standards for coal-fired power plants and heavy industrial plants. The national air quality standards and definitions of air pollutants need to be updated based on the latest scientific knowledge.

Graphical Abstract

1. Introduction

The industry is one of the major sources of air pollution and greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions [1]. Globally, there is an increasing trend of GHG emissions from industry [2]. Industrial GHG emissions have declined in OECD countries but have increased in the Asian region [2]. Geng et al. [2] highlight the need for studies to learn and share experiences for developing countries. Kazakhstan has experienced considerable economic growth in the last two decades, mainly due to the export of fossil fuels and metals, but it has also undergone many years of environmental degradation because of the poor management of its significant natural resources [3]. The carbon intensity of GDP in Kazakhstan (0.6 kg per PPP $ of GDP in 2016) is two times higher than the world average value (0.33 kg per PPP $ of GDP) and three times higher than that in the European Union (0.2 kg per PPP $ of GDP) [4]. During the time of the USSR, coal-fired power plants were built to meet the needs of heavy industry and due to the presence of coal mines in the northern, central, and eastern regions of Kazakhstan. In Kazakhstan, there were two industrial sectors, namely power generation and metallurgy, which are the major sources of emissions, as they are responsible for 37% and 30% of the country’s gross industrial emissions, respectively [5].
Industrial plants in Kazakhstan are required to obtain a “permit for emissions” setting emission limit values (ELV) [6]. ELVs are determined with dispersion models based on the prerequisite for achieving “environmental quality standards” at the border of the sanitary protection zone and in nearby residential areas [6]. Such an approach generally leads to less stringent emission limits than ELVs, which are based on internationally defined best available techniques (BAT) for installations (e.g., EU Industrial Emissions Directive) [7]. In theory, the Environmental Code provides a general framework for protecting the health of the population and environment. However, in reality, its implementation is prevented by a lack of mechanisms for its implementation, weak environmental quality standards, and a lack of law enforcement and site control. Since the adoption of the Environmental Code in 2007, 75 amendments have been made, but they have failed to create the prerequisites required for emissions reductions [8]. Investment in the protection of atmospheric air decreased by a coefficient of 2.6: from 443 million US dollars in 2013 to 173 million US dollars in 2018 [9,10].
Kazakhstan ranked as 29th in the world’s most polluted countries in 2019 [11]. Most cities in Kazakhstan are not included in global air quality rankings due to the lack of monitoring data linked to global databases. The National Air Quality Monitoring System is owned and operated by Kazakhstan official authorities and does not provide data to the IQ Air [11].
In the wintertime, Nur-Sultan city was ranked in the top ten polluted cities of the world, with daily PM2.5 concentration levels ranging between 100–200 µg m−3 on some days [11]. Almaty city has days with daily PM2.5 concentration levels between 100–200 µg m−3, but it has never ranked in the top ten polluted cities of the world, possibly because of the lack of monitoring data. In many areas of Kazakhstan, winters are long and cold, the heating season lasts for more than half a year. A high level of air pollution in the wintertime in Almaty and Nur-Sultan cities could be associated with higher values of coal consumption at combined heat and power plants (CHPs) and coal combustion by households for heating purposes. [12].
In ten out of eleven selected cities of Kazakhstan, annual levels of pollutant concentrations in the air do not meet the annual limit values set by the European Union [13]. The epidemiological studies by Nugmanova et al. [14,15] showed that Kazakhstan has an increased prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and bronchial asthma compared to Ukraine and Azerbaijan, which could be associated with poor air quality in Kazakhstan.
Many countries achieved substantial reductions in air pollution levels due to a range of policies and measures. There were substantial declines in SO2 emissions observed in the US [16], Europe [17], and China [18,19,20] because of stricter environmental regulations, technology improvements, and switching to clean fuel. In large parts of Europe, SO2 concentrations were very low [21]. Many areas in Kazakhstan continue to suffer from high air pollution levels due to weak environmental regulations for the metallurgical industry and coal power plants. There is no appropriate emissions control technology applied locally.
Some studies provide ex-post evaluations of policies to determine whether specific interventions were justified and achieved their objectives. Enrique Conti et al. [22] analyze the current situation of industrial emissions in Europe and discuss the problems associated with Industrial Emissions Directive. Tang et al. [23] provide an ex-post evaluation of the ultra-low emissions standards policy in China by analyzing unit-level data. Newell and Henry [24] assess the environmental legislation, government regulatory institutions, and civil society in the Russian Federation. Cherp et al. [25] evaluate environmental assessment systems of the countries in transition. Most of these studies were conducted in countries with progressive environmental policies. However, a limited number of research studies have been done with a focus on industrial emissions in the Central Asian region and Kazakhstan to date.
Air quality levels in the cities of Kazakhstan have been widely discussed in media reports; however, peer-reviewed studies remain scarce. Previous studies focused on the assessment of air quality mainly in cities of Kazakhstan such as Almaty [26,27] and Nur-Sultan [12,27]. The atmosphere of large cities in Kazakhstan is polluted not only by nitrogen oxides, sulfur, and dust, but also by Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOC measurements in the atmosphere of Almaty [26] show that the concentration of benzene is 53 μg m−3, toluene is 57 μg m−3, and ethylbenzene is 11 μg m−3. A comparative analysis with 19 other large cities showed that Almaty ranks 8th in terms of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX) pollution. Kerimray et al. [27] analyzed the effect of COVID-19 lockdown restriction measures on the concentration of atmospheric pollutants. During the COVID-19 lockdown period, the concentration of PM2.5 decreased by 21%, CO and NO2 by 49% and 35%, respectively, in comparison with 2018–2019. The study by Ormanova et al. [12] established the influence of the anticyclone on the formation of smog over Nur-Sultan in 2017. In the period from 2006 to 2016, the average annual concentration of pollutants in Nur-Sultan exceeded the average annual WHO standards for NO2 by 1.5–2 times. The average annual concentration of PM10 during the period from 2014 to 2016 increased from 20 to 100 μg m−3 [28]. Darynova et al. [29] analyzed SO2 and HCHO from satellite observations over five cities of Kazakhstan for the period from 2005 to 2016. The highest SO2 pollution was found over Ekibastuz, where the largest two coal-fired power plants are located.
The health impact of air pollution in cities of Kazakhstan was estimated by the studies of Kenessary et al. [30] and Kerimray et al. [31]. Kenessary et al. [30] assessed the health risk associated with the level of air pollution in twenty-six cities of Kazakhstan. An extremely high risk of chronic effects from exposure to heavy metals has been identified in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Almaty, and Balkhash. There was an increased level of Ba, Mn, Pb, V, Zn in the blood of city residents of Aksu and Ust-Kamenogorsk [31], possibly due to the activities of metallurgical enterprises. Kerimray et al. [32] estimated the death rate from air pollution in the large cities of Kazakhstan. In twenty-one cities of Kazakhstan, 8134 adult deaths associated with PM2.5 occur annually (2015–2017 average). The main causes of deaths were coronary heart disease (4080), stroke (1613), lower respiratory tract infections (662), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (434), and lung cancer (332). The highest death rates were found in three industrial cities: Zhezkazgan, Temirtau, and Balkhash.
The purpose of this study is fourfold: (i) to analyze the state of atmospheric pollution in the cities of Kazakhstan, (ii) to analyze industrial emissions trends in Kazakhstan, (iii) to establish the links between air pollution and industrial emissions, and (iv) to analyze plant-level data on emissions from the permitting documents of thirty large industrial enterprises (power plants and metallurgical enterprises).

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. Sources of the Air Quality Data

Annual concentration levels of TSP, NO2, SO2, and CO for 2019 were obtained from the information bulletin on the state of the environment of the Republic of Kazakhstan of Kazhydromet, the National Hydrometeorological Service of Kazakhstan [33]. Kazhydromet is the owner and the operator of the National Air Quality Monitoring Network (NAQMN). Kazhydromet publishes information bulletins on a monthly and annual basis.

2.2. Air Quality Standards and Air Pollution Index (API)

Annual concentration levels of TSP, NO2, SO2 have been compared with national and international air quality standards. In Kazakhstan, air quality standards are defined as maximum allowable concentrations (MACs). Levels of MACs were approved in 2015 by the Hygienic Standards for Atmospheric Air in Urban and Rural Settlements [34]. The maximum “one-time” and average daily concentrations and hazard classes for 684 substances have been established (Table 1). There are differences between the air quality standards of Kazakhstan and WHO [35]: the WHO uses daily and annual average limit values for PM10, PM2.5, and NO2 to assess air quality, whereas in Kazakhstan, maximum one-time values are employed, and average annual MACs are not. The maximum one-time MAC for PM2.5 used in Kazakhstan is sixteen times higher than the average annual WHO’s standard.
To assess the air pollution level, indices that are related to the MAC values are employed in Kazakhstan. The most important is the Air Pollution Index (API). For its calculation, the average values of the concentrations of various pollutants are divided by their respective MAC and benchmarked by a factor related to the MAC value of SO2. In this study, API values for the cities of Kazakhstan were obtained from the information bulletin on the state of the environment of the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2019 for the cities of Kazakhstan [33]. The quality in the city is estimated by four classes: Low, Increased, High, Very High (Table 2).

2.3. Description of Selected Enterprises and Their Permitting Documents

Permitting documents of industrial enterprises are taken from the reports of the state environmental expertise on the website of electronic licensing of Kazakhstan http://elicense.kz/ (accessed on 23 April 2020). The ELVs (emission limit values) that are reported in the permitting documents of major industrial enterprises in the power and metallurgy sectors are analyzed. We evaluated the efficiency of environmental regulations and changes in recent years by comparing the existing (valid at the time of this study) with the previous (valid in the previous permitting period) ELVs of the major industrial enterprises.
The power plants selected for this study have a total available capacity of 12.9 GW, which is 68% of the total available capacity in the country (18.9 GW) (Appendix A, Table A1). Three major state district power stations called GRES are thermal power plants that produce mainly electricity. Aksu GRES, Ekibastuz GRES-1, and Ekibastuz GRES-2 have the available capacity of 2450 MW, 4000 MW, and 1000 MW respectively, representing 39% of the total available capacity in the country. The remaining eighteen power plants are combined heat and power plants (CHP), producing not only electricity but also serve as sources of heat in centralized heat supply systems of the respective cities. District heating systems based on coal CHPs are common in most of the cities in Kazakhstan.
All selected power plants use coal as a main source of fuel (except for Almaty CHP-1). In all power plants, coal is flared in the pulverized state; ignition is carried out with fuel oil. In all coal power plants of Kazakhstan (except for one station) emissions control devices for SO2 and NO2 emissions are not employed. In most of the power plants in Kazakhstan, a method for wet cleaning of the flue gas from Russian manufacturers named “emulsifiers” is used to control ash. In the permitting documents of many power plants in Kazakhstan, it is indicated that ash collection is represented by “emulsifiers” with an efficiency of about 99%. However, the collection efficiency of fine dust (PM2.5) is not reported. More advanced pollution control devices for PM, such as fabric filters, are not yet employed.
Information from approved ELVs from coal combustion for selected power plants is presented in Appendix A (Table A1).
Nine metallurgical enterprises produce a major share of the country’s total metals output: 65% of ferroalloys, 100% of copper, 100% of iron and steel, 95% of zinc, 94% of lead. Information from approved ELVs for selected metallurgical plants is presented in Appendix A (Table A1).

2.4. Description of the Selected Cities

The cities selected in this study have major industrial plants: either coal power plants or metallurgical plants. Fourteen cities were selected in this study. The sum of gross emissions from stationary sources of the fourteen cities is 1369 thousand tons, whereas the total national emissions from stationary sources is 2483 thousand tons. Thus, the selected cities represent 55% of national emissions from stationary sources, while representing only 30% of the population of the country. Two cities have a population of more than 1 million people (Nur-Sultan and Almaty), five cities between 300 thousand to 500 thousand people, and seven cities have less than 200 thousand people (Table 3).

3. Results

3.1. Air Quality in the Cities of Kazakhstan

Eight cities had a “high” level of air pollution according to the Air Pollution Index data (more or equal to seven) in 2019: Nur-Sultan, Karaganda, Temirtau, Aktobe, Balkhash, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Zhezkazgan, Almaty (Figure 1). The two most populous cities of Kazakhstan (Almaty, Nur-Sultan) were highly polluted. Two cities (Pavlodar, Semei) had an “increased” level of air pollution. Only four of selected cities of Kazakhstan had a “low” level of air pollution.
Over the recent years (2015–2019), deterioration in air quality was observed in seven cities (Figure 1). Air quality worsened in large cities: in Almaty the API increased from 7.6 in 2015 to 8 in 2019, in Nur-Sultan from 4.2 to 7. An increase in API was also observed in Temirtau (API increased from 7.9 to 9) and in Zhezkazgan (an increase in the IPA from 7.5 to 8). If a longer period was considered (2009–2019), there is a similar tendency: eight cities had rising API. Consistently rising API in both periods (2009–2019 and 2015–2019) was observed in five cities: Balkhash, Pavlodar, Nur-Sultan, Zhezkazgan, Temirtau (Figure 2).
The average annual concentration of TSP was extremely high in the cities in Kazakhstan: in ten cities (out of twelve), it was higher than 100 µg m−3 (Figure 3). The WHO has not established limit values for TSP, and the average annual concentrations of pollutants were compared with the nationally adopted average daily MAC only. Five cities exceeded the nationally adopted MAC for TSP (150 µg m−3). In Temirtau, the exceedance of the national MAC values was recorded for all the analyzed pollutants (TSP, NO2, and SO2). Ekibastuz and Pavlodar, which rank second and third in gross emissions, had lower TSP, NO2, and SO2 concentrations than other cities. This could be explained by the industrial enterprises being located far from the air quality monitoring stations, meteorological conditions, possible mistakes in the air quality data, and other factors. For example, the Pavlodar aluminum smelter with CHP-1 is not covered by the air quality monitoring network, and the largest power plants in Aksu and Ekibastuz are 3 and 30 km, respectively, away from the monitoring site. The relatively low air pollution levels in Ekibastuz, Aksu, and Rudnyi were partly due to the presence of only 1–3 monitoring stations. The World Bank [13] recommended that Kazakhstan extend its air quality monitoring network, especially in industrial cities.
The average annual concentrations of NO2 and SO2 in 2019 in fourteen cities in Kazakhstan are presented in Figure 3. Exceedance of the nationally established daily MAC values for SO2 (50 µg m−3) and NO2 (40 µg m−3) was recorded in three cities: Almaty, Ust-Kamenogorsk, and Temirtau. The levels in these cities were clearly beyond the acceptable range, as they were higher than those in other cities in Kazakhstan. These three cities have coal-fired power plants, and two of them (Ust-Kamenogorsk and Temirtau) also have metallurgical enterprises. If we compare the concentration values with the WHO standard (24-h limit value for SO2 = 20 µg m−3), the situation becomes more dramatic, as the annual average concentration was exceeded in seven cities in Kazakhstan—by a factor of 6.4 in Almaty (128 µg m−3), 4.5 in Ust-Kamenogorsk (90 µg m−3), 2.9 in Temirtau (58 µg m−3), and 2.2 in Ridder (43 µg m−3). Cities with high SO2 levels (Almaty, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Temirtau, Ridder) have coal power plants and/or heavy industrial plants.
To compare variations in concentrations in winter and summer, we used the monthly average concentrations of TSP, SO2, and NO2 in December, January, February, June, July, and August in 2019 (Table 4). Transitional months were excluded, as the heating season varies greatly between cities. Differences between winter and summer were significant, and the differences varied by city and pollutant.
Seasonal variations in air pollution can be highly affected by meteorology. Two meteorological parameters (temperature and relative humidity) by months and by cities are presented in Appendix A, Table A2 and Table A3. The climate of Kazakhstan is continental, with cold winters and hot summers. The average temperature significantly varies from the northern to southern regions of Kazakhstan. The average winter temperature in the selected cities located in the north and central areas was −12–14 °C and it was −4 °C in Almaty (the only city considered in this study which is located in the south). Heating is a basic need for survival in Kazakhstan, therefore the amount of fuel consumption is higher in the winter time due to the additional demand for heating. In all selected cities there are coal-fired CHPs, except for three cities.
The concentration of TSP increased in seven cities in the summer compared to the winter. This is an unexpected result because the level of emissions from CHPs and residential heating is generally higher in the winter-time. On the other hand, the level of emissions from metallurgical enterprises and transportation could be stable throughout the year. CHPs in Almaty and Nur-Sultan annually burn around 3.7 and 3.2 million tons of coal respectively. The operation of the CHPs depends on the outside temperature. As an example, the average daily coal consumption in Almaty CHP-2 was more than twice as high in the winter period compared to summer, 9424 tons/day in January 2019 and 3999 tons/day in July 2019. Stable atmospheric conditions and temperature inversions could lead to winter-time episodic pollution. In Almaty the level of TSP was 17.6% lower in winter compared to the summer in 2019 (Table 4). On the contrary, independent air quality monitoring from the airkaz.org website depicted that the average level of PM2.5 concentration in winter in Almaty was 110 µg m−3, which was nearly 6 times higher than in the summer (18 µg m−3). Such differences in seasonal variations of TSP and PM2.5 from two sources: official Kazhydromet’s TSP values and civil activists’ PM2.5 measurements need further investigation. TSP values cannot be directly compared to PM2.5, the ratio PM2.5/TSP can vary by seasons, with fine particles originating from the combustion of fuels and coarse particles from soils and, road dust resuspension. Another possible explanation could be that in the cities under consideration, the average relative air humidity in the summer months was 16–47% lower than in the winter (Table A3). At high air humidity, the process of deposition of fine particles could occur faster due to their coagulation.
On the contrary, SO2 declined in the summertime compared to the winter period in eleven cities. NO2 concentration was lower in the summertime in eight cities. Higher levels of NO2 and SO2 levels in the winter time were not a surprise, especially in the areas with coal-fired CHPs and households burning coal for heating.
No data is available on the industrial activity by seasons; therefore explaining the factors contributing to the seasonal variations needs further investigation.

3.2. Emissions Trends from Stationary Sources

Between 2009 and 2018, NOx, CO, and SO2 emissions increased significantly by 32%, 10%, and 8%, respectively (Table 5). Paradoxically, there was a decline in TSP emissions by 32% over this period but an increase in inorganic dust (SiO2 70–20%) by 67%. This could be partially explained by the fact that, in Kazakhstan, when coal is burned at power plants methodologies prescribe that ash dust be standardized as inorganic dust (SiO2 70–20%). The increase in the emissions of inorganic dust (SiO2 70–20%) in Kazakhstan could be due to the increase in coal consumption at coal-fired power plants over the same period. Emissions of TSP in Kazakhstan are estimated mainly at metallurgical enterprises and in the construction industry. The decline in the TSP emissions from stationary sources for the period 2009–2018 may be explained by the fact that some industrial plants started to report TSP as inorganic dust (SiO2 70–20%), but this assumption needs further verification.
Kazakhstan inherited a system for setting emissions and hygienic standards for pollutants from the Soviet Union. There was no separation of dust into PM2.5 and PM10, therefore MACs were developed for certain types of dust, typical for the main types of industries. No attention was paid to the size of particles. The concept of PM2.5 and PM10 appeared in the legislative documents of Kazakhstan only in 2012, but there are still no requirements for reporting and estimating dust by particle size. The concept of inorganic dust with different contents of silicon dioxide is used only in post-Soviet countries. In the sanitary rules of Kazakhstan, an explanation is given of the cases to normalize which types of dust:
  • Coal ash from thermal power plants (with a calcium oxide content of 35–40%);
  • Inorganic dust SiO2 > 70% if the mass fraction of SiO2 in the dust composition exceeds 70%;
  • Inorganic dust SiO2 70–20% if the mass fraction of SiO2 in the dust composition ranges from 20–70% (clinker, ash, blast furnace slag, sand, clay);
  • Inorganic dust SiO2 < 20% if the mass fraction of SiO2 in the dust is up to 20% (bauxite, cinder, dolomite, limestone).
In fact, when industrial plants report emissions of dust, the composition of the dust is not checked by the authorities. All these types of dust affect the concentration of TSP, PM2.5, and PM10 in the ambient air. To eliminate confusion, when standardizing dust, which is currently named as “inorganic dust (SiO2 70–20%)”, “inorganic dust (SiO2 > 70%)”, “inorganic dust (SiO2 < 20%)”, “coal ash from power plants” and “TSP” should be unified in accordance with international definitions of pollutants. Those definitions of dust (inorganic dust (SiO2 70–20%), inorganic dust (SiO2 > 70%), inorganic dust (SiO2 < 20%), coal ash from power plants) are outdated, as they have been used since the USSR period.

3.3. Links between Air Quality in the Cities and Industrial Emissions

To establish links between air quality in the cities with the activity of the industrial plants, the available data on air pollution levels (API) were compared with the data on industrial emissions. Emissions from stationary sources by cities reported in the Statistical Publication “Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development of Kazakhstan” [9,10] were employed. Gross emissions stationary sources were used because emissions by each pollutant by cities are not available.
For fourteen cities, there was no correlation (R2 = 0.0256, p = 0.58) found between API level and industrial emissions (Figure 4). In Kazakhstan, the availability of monitoring systems is insufficient; particularly in small industrial cities. In Ekibastuz, Aksu, and Rudnyi there are only one to three monitoring stations. Pavlodar aluminum smelter is not covered by the monitoring system of Pavlodar city. In Aksu and Ekibastuz, monitoring stations are located at a distance of 3 and 30 km from the enterprises.
If we exclude four cities (Pavlodar, Ekibastuz, Aksu, Rudnyi) where industrial plants are located outside of the city and where there is a lack of monitoring stations, the situation is dramatically different (Figure 5). API level and gross emissions were correlated (R2 = 0.4791, p = 0.027) for the remaining ten cities, although the correlation was not strong. This could indicate a contribution of industrial emissions in the air pollution of the cities.
The results also showed the importance of high spatial coverage of the air quality monitoring network, especially in polluted industrial cities. The World Bank (2013) also highlighted the lack of an air quality monitoring network in the industrial cities of Kazakhstan [13]. Despite the high level of industrial emissions in Aksu and Ekibastuz cities (more than 200 thousand tons), the API level was low (API two and three), possibly because the industrial plants are located outside the cities. Results indicated that the location of industrial plants far outside the cities could reduce the exposure of the population of the cities to air pollution.

3.4. Other Possible Factors Contributing to Air Pollution

Topography and meteorological factors could play an important role in air pollution. Almaty and Ust-Kamenogorsk cities are located in the bowl of mountain ranges. It causes a large number of windless days. The rest of the considered industrialized cities are located mainly in the steppe zone.
Winter smog episodes in Nur-Sultan have common meteorological conditions and anticyclonic conditions (with low wind speed, high ground-level pressures, freezing weather conditions with the air temperature reaching −30 °C at night and −20 °C in the daytime over several days) [12].
There are also natural sources of air pollution, such as dust blown from soils. Desert and semi-desert areas of Kazakhstan are mainly located in the areas of the Caspian Sea and southern parts of Kazakhstan. Issanova and Abuduwaili [36] and Nobakht et al. [37] note that sandstorms in Kazakhstan are common in South Kazakhstan (the Syr Darya and Ile river valleys), the southern part of Lake Balkhash. Zhang et al. [38] found that the main source of Aeolian Dust in Central Asia is the Aral Sea (southwestern Kazakhstan), which has significantly dried up since the 1960s. The selected cities in this study are located in the northern parts of Kazakhstan (except for Almaty) in the steppe and forest-steppe zones and those areas could be less affected by frequent sandstorms.
Transport could be one of the important sources of air pollution, particularly in densely populated large cities. The number vehicles per 100 persons increased in Kazakhstan from 4.7 units in 1990 to 19.2 units in 2019. The rapid increase in the number of passenger cars can be attributed to inefficient public transport and a lack of alternatives for the population. None of the cities in Kazakhstan have high-speed public transport modes (e.g., metro, LRT). There is a metro system in Almaty, but it has only 9 stations with 11.5 km length. Two densely populated cities (Almaty and Nur-Sultan) have the highest number of registered vehicles: 514 and 300 thousand vehicles respectively [39].
Selected cities, except for Almaty and Nur-Sultan, are small industrial cities. Seven cities (out of fourteen) have a low population (less than 179 thousand people) and have less than 41 thousand registered vehicles. The number of registered vehicles by cities was compared with the API in the selected cities (Figure 6). Transport in Almaty and Nur-Sultan could have a contribution to air pollution deterioration, while in other cities non-transportation sources may dominate in the contribution to air pollution. The correlation between the number of registered vehicles and API was low (R2 = 0.151, p = 0.189). Temirtau, Zhezkazgan, and Balkhash have high levels of air pollution, despite the very low population and fewer transport vehicles.
Coal combustion for household heating is also an important source of air pollution. The households Survey showed that solid fuels (coal and firewood) are mainly used by rural households: 55% of rural households in Kazakhstan used solid fuels and only 17% of urban households used solid fuels [40]. The data on the share of households using coal by cities were compared to with the Air Pollution Index by cities (Figure 7). It could be observed that despite the low share of households using coal in Almaty (1%) and Nur-Sultan (6%), those cities remain highly polluted. Generally in the selected cities, the share of households using coal was less than 25%. There is no available data for small cities such as Semei, Rudnyi, Aksu, and Ridder.
Out of fourteen cities, only two cities have access to network gas: Aktobe and Almaty. Households could be significant sources of PM2.5, SO2, NOx emissions in the cities of Kazakhstan. However, in Kazakhstan, household emissions are not estimated, since, according to Article 10 of the Environmental Code [6], they are referred to as the general use of natural resources, which is free and not subject to regulation. The volume of household emissions is currently not established in Kazakhstan.
Emissions inventory and source-apportionment studies need to be conducted in the cities of Kazakhstan to quantify the impact of the sources of air pollution. The impact of topography and meteorology factors also needs further investigation.

3.5. Emission Limit Values of Selected Industrial Enterprises

In the nine major metallurgical enterprises considered, there was an overall increase in ELV by 124 thousand tons per year (23% increase). A reduction in the ELV was observed for only three enterprises, totaling 11 thousand tons, while the ELV increased by 135 thousand tons for five enterprises (Figure 8).
For the twenty-one power plants considered, there was an overall increase in ELV amounting to 66 thousand tons per year (7% change). Thirteen power plants increased their ELV by a total of 152 thousand tons. There was no change at three power plants. Emissions reductions were found for only five power plants, totaling 86 thousand tons (Figure 9).
The used data proved the inefficiency of the air protection policy at major thermal power plants. Authorities permit enterprises to increase their consumption of coal without obliging them to implement special measures for reducing their emissions of harmful substances into the atmosphere.
Permitting documents often do not contain activity data. Therefore, it was not possible to compare emissions per unit of output with the best practices in the sector. Permits contain data on coal consumption by power plants per year (at maximum production output). Therefore, ELVs per unit of coal use have been analyzed in this study (Table A1). It could be observed that there were large variations in emissions per unit of coal consumed across power plants. As an example, allowed emissions, i.e., the ELV of SO2 were between 9 to 34 kg/ton of oil equivalent (toe), allowed emissions of ash were between 3 to 24 kg/ton. Such variations in emissions intensities across power plants could be related to gaps in methodology for the determination of the ELV, which do not require emissions per unit of activity to be estimated and compared with best practices in the sector. There is no practice of benchmarking the environmental performance of industrial plants in terms of their emissions per unit of activity data due to the lack of data, lack of expertise, and absence of such a requirement in the legislation.

4. Discussion

Cities selected for this study were heavily polluted in 2019: the concentration of TSP exceeded 100 μg m−3 in ten (out of twelve) cities, and the concentration of SO2 exceeded 20 μg m−3 in seven (out of fourteen) cities. Annual average SO2 concentration levels were very high in Almaty (128 µg m−3), in Ust-Kamenogorsk (90 µg m−3), and in Temirtau (58 µg m−3). Eight cities (out of fourteen) have a “high” level of air pollution according to the Air Pollution Index (API). Winter to summer variation was considerable, and the differences varied by the cities and by the pollutants. Seasonal variations are hard to explain, due to the lack of data on industrial activity by seasons.
Non-industrial emission sources were also discussed in this study. Transport is unlikely to be a major contributor to air pollution in the selected cities, except for Almaty and Nur-Sultan.
For fourteen cities, there was no correlation found between air pollution level and industrial emissions. If we exclude four cities where industrial plants are located outside the city and where there is a lack of monitoring stations, API level and gross industrial emissions would correlate (R2 = 0.4791), although not strongly. Results indicate the need for expanding the coverage of the air quality monitoring network in the industrial cities of Kazakhstan.
Despite a high level of industrial emissions in Aksu and Ekibastuz cities (more than 200 thousand tons), the API level was low, possibly because the industrial plants are located outside the cities. Results indicate that the location of the industrial plants far outside of cities could reduce the exposure of the population of the cities to air pollution.
In this study, it was demonstrated that the current emission permitting system does not provide an effective mechanism for emissions reduction. Most of the considered enterprises increased their emission limit values. Although the primary legislation, in theory, provides a framework for environmental protection, there are several loopholes in the secondary legislation: the methods for determining ELVs are linked to weak environmental quality standards, and there is a lack of monitoring and law enforcement. The increase in allowed emissions for coal power plants was explained by the growth of heat and electricity consumption and investment programs to increase production capacities. Power plants were not required to reduce emissions or introduce emission control technologies for reducing NO2 and SO2 emissions. Considering the quality of ambient air in the cities, it would be rational to assume that no increase in emissions should be permitted for coal power plants.
The air quality standards adopted in Kazakhstan are outdated. For example, enterprises can legally generate emissions that lead to a 500 μg m−3 concentration of SO2 at the border of the sanitary protection zone, which is twenty-five times higher than the 24-h average WHO limit value (20 μg m−3). Outdated methodologies for estimating and presenting data, such as the summing of pollutants with different levels of toxicity or using several definitions for dust, cause information on emissions and air quality levels to remain hidden and unclear. There is an urgent need to harmonize environmental quality standards and methodologies in Kazakhstan to collect and present environmental data in accordance with the latest scientific knowledge and international practices.
Stringent emissions standards for coal-fired power plants have been successful in other countries. In 2014, China introduced “ultra-low” emission standards for coal-fired power plants; by 2017, almost all coal-fired power plants in China had installed NOx and SO2 control devices [23]. Between 2014 and 2017, China’s annual power emissions of SO2, NOx, and PM reduced substantially by 65%, 60%, and 72%, respectively [23]. Stringent emissions standards for coal-fired power plants must be introduced in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is planning to transition to an emission permit system based on technology-integrated OECD practices. With the constant pressure from powerful industrial associations, it remains uncertain whether authorities would be able to push stricter industrial emissions regulations. Authorities have to ensure that Kazakhstan’s list of BAT and technical emissions standards correspond with those from Europe.
Due to scarcity of funding for expensive laboratory equipment and lack of capacity, source apportionment with chemical analysis of PM particles has not been conducted for the cities of Kazakhstan so far.
Limitations of this study should be noted. The first limitation is the use of estimated emission values from permitting documents of power plants and industrial plants. Data on the real emissions from stationary sources in Kazakhstan are not available due to the absence of a continuous emissions monitoring system in industrial and power plants in Kazakhstan. The impact of meteorological factors and topography on the air quality levels in industrial cities should be investigated. Future studies should empirically examine the impact of industrial emissions permitting policy on air pollutant emissions. Appropriate source-apportionment studies should be conducted in heavily polluted areas.

Author Contributions

Data collection and analysis, original draft preparation have been made by D.A. Literature review, writing, final review, and editing have been made by A.K. Funding acquisition by V.Z. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

Funding

This work was funded by a grant from the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan № AP08053440 Research of emissions major sources of harmful substances into atmospheric air of Ust-Kamenogorsk with the cause identification of high hydrogen sulfide content. The work of Aiymgul Kerimray was supported by Postdoctoral Fellowship provided by Al-Farabi Kazakh National University.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Annual concentration levels of pollutants and Air Pollution Index values are available at the website of Kazhydromet https://www.kazhydromet.kz/ru/ecology/informacionnye-byulleteni-o-sostoyanii-okruzhayuschey-sredy-respubliki-kazahstan (accessed on 17 January 2021). Permitting documents of industrial enterprises were obtained from the conclusions of the state environmental expertise on the website of electronic licensing of Kazakhstan http://elicense.kz/ (accessed on 23 April 2020). Data on emissions of priority pollutants from stationary sources are available at the website of the Committee of Statistics of the Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan (2019) https://stat.gov.kz/ (accessed on 17 January 2021).

Acknowledgments

We thank Zhanna Kapsalyamova for improving the English writing of the paper.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Appendix A

Table A1. Information from approved ELV for selected power plants.
Table A1. Information from approved ELV for selected power plants.
Name of Power PlantElectric Capacity, MWHeat Capacity, Gcal/hCoal Consumption in 2020, Thousand Tons of Oil EquivalentSulfur Content, %Ash Content, %Approved ELV for 2020 per Unit of Coal Consumption, kg/ton of Oil EquivalentPeriod of Validity of ELV, YearsEmission Limit Value for 2020, tons
NO2SO2CODustCurrently ValidPrevious PeriodNO2SO2CODust
1Ust-Kamenogorsk CHP3738609740.4226.613.60.34.52019–20232018–2022447092781853077
2Sogrinsk CHP752322300.4175.714.10.13.12016–20202014–2017923227314.5495
3Pavlodar CHP-135011702057 619.31.48.32018–20272017–2019864427,817195112,017
4Pavlodar CHP-2110332400 6.419.80.84.82019–20282015–2019180055322231339
5Pavlodar CHP-35058081657 6.518.215.32019–20282015–2019751521,12711126133
6Aksu GRES24501955934 417.226.51.714.62016–20252013–201729,762110,245721860,780
7Ekibastuz GRES-14000-7886 9.534.515.72018–20222017–202152,642190,565557931,464
8Ekibastuz GRES-210004502509 8.334.70.46.42019–20232016–202014,57560,95861511,296
9Karaganda CHP-1324602290.7423.832.81.15.82017–20262014–20166025248176929
10Karaganda CHP-3670117421600.742713.10.44.22018–20222015–201710,59419,7495586304
11Temirtau CHP632-34240.8405.311.40.66.82017–20212014–201612,62827,246142016,381
12Balkhash CHP200417607 5.529.71.38.42018–20222014–2018235312,6315533571
13Zhezkazgan CHP2525648140.6 9.827.11.85.22017–20202015–2019561315,42510152968
14Nur-Sultan CHP-122862217 427.823.80.86.820202018–2019117836081261024
15Nur-Sultan CHP-248019182211 44823.81.64.72017–2020201712,43136,88024527256
16Almaty CHP-11451203840.626 2016–20252015–201911941209235270
17Almaty CHP-2510117616120.742720.61.67.82015–20242014–2018785623,23817528779
18Almaty CHP-31733356470.6407.322.10.98.72015–20242014–2018330610,0203953940
19Petropavlovsk CHP581 1829 414.423.43.44.82016–20252015 (no exact date)562729,92943476128
20Rudnyi CHP2671341063 435.311.310.524.12019–20262018–202639508414784317,921
21Ridder CHP59247.32140.4136.190.15.32015–20242011–2015919135317799
Total12,88612,53736,758 188,582622,74537,787202,871
Average 0.6356.721.41.57.3
Table A2. Monthly average temperature and duration of the heating season by selected cities (Source: adapted from State standards in the field of architecture, urban planning and construction, 2017 https://igis.kz/images/snip/stroitelnye-normativy/sp-rk-2.04-01-2017-stroitelnaya-klimatologiya.pdf (accessed on 20 February 2021)).
Table A2. Monthly average temperature and duration of the heating season by selected cities (Source: adapted from State standards in the field of architecture, urban planning and construction, 2017 https://igis.kz/images/snip/stroitelnye-normativy/sp-rk-2.04-01-2017-stroitelnaya-klimatologiya.pdf (accessed on 20 February 2021)).
CityAverage Temperature, °CHeating Season
JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecMeanStartEndDays
Nur-Sultan−15.1−14.8−7.75.413.819.320.718.312.44.1−5.5−12.13.229.0926.04211
Almaty−5.3−3.62.911.516.521.523.822.717.59.92.6−2.99.822.1003.04165
Ust-Kamenogorsk−15.8−14.6−7.65.613.718.620.218.212.25−5−12.43.204.1025.04205
Semei−14.9−13.8−6.66.614.520.121.619.212.75−4.3−11.54.104.1022.04202
Temirtau−13.6−13.2−6.65.813.318.920.418.312.34.1−4.8−113.730.0925.04209
Karaganda−13.6−13.2−6.65.813.318.920.418.312.34.1−4.8−113.730.0925.04209
Balkhash−13.9−12.7−4.48.216.322.224.222.115.56.9−1.9−9.76.111.1016.04189
Zhezkazgan−13.8−13.2−58.716.222.424.422155.9−3−10.25.805.1016.04195
Pavlodar−16.6−15.5−7.65.713.819.821.418.612.34−6−133.102.1025.04207
Ekibastuz−14.8−14.2−6.66.1142021.418.912.74.5−5.1−11.53.902.1025.04207
Aksu−14.8−14.2−6.66.1142021.418.912.74.5−5.1−11.53.902.1025.04207
Aktobe−13.3−12.9−5.7715.220.722.820.5145.2−3.3−9.65.104.1020.04200
Rudnyi−15.5−14.9−7.55.51419.620.818.412.54.3−5.6−12.43.301.1023.04206
Table A3. Monthly average relative humidity by selected cities (Source: adapted from State standards in the field of architecture, urban planning and construction, 2017 https://igis.kz/images/snip/stroitelnye-normativy/sp-rk-2.04-01-2017-stroitelnaya-klimatologiya.pdf (accessed on 20 February 2021)).
Table A3. Monthly average relative humidity by selected cities (Source: adapted from State standards in the field of architecture, urban planning and construction, 2017 https://igis.kz/images/snip/stroitelnye-normativy/sp-rk-2.04-01-2017-stroitelnaya-klimatologiya.pdf (accessed on 20 February 2021)).
CityRelative Humidity, %
JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecMeanWinterSummer%
Nur-Sultan78777964545359575868807967785628
Almaty78767159574947454963737962784740
Ust-Kamenogorsk76757764576267646369777769766416
Semei75757659535360596067747566755724
Temirtau79787861545055525365777865785233
Karaganda79787861545055525365777865785233
Balkhash79787556514649474760747962794741
Zhezkazgan78777557484042404460767960784147
Pavlodar79798062545560616271808069795925
Ekibastuz78787760525157575766777766785529
Aksu78787760525157575766777766785529
Aktobe81797966575455545869808268815433
Rudnyi83828268585764646472828372836225

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Figure 1. Air pollution index in 2019 (upper map) and average annual concentrations of TSP in the cities of Kazakhstan in 2019, µg m−3 (bottom map). Data source: [33].
Figure 1. Air pollution index in 2019 (upper map) and average annual concentrations of TSP in the cities of Kazakhstan in 2019, µg m−3 (bottom map). Data source: [33].
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Figure 2. Changes in the air pollution index over 2015–2019 and 2009–2019 in the cities of Kazakhstan Source: [33].
Figure 2. Changes in the air pollution index over 2015–2019 and 2009–2019 in the cities of Kazakhstan Source: [33].
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Figure 3. Average annual concentrations of SO2 and NO2 in cities in Kazakhstan in 2019, µg m−3. Data source: [33].
Figure 3. Average annual concentrations of SO2 and NO2 in cities in Kazakhstan in 2019, µg m−3. Data source: [33].
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Figure 4. Air pollution index and gross emissions from stationary sources in 2019 for fourteen cities of Kazakhstan.
Figure 4. Air pollution index and gross emissions from stationary sources in 2019 for fourteen cities of Kazakhstan.
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Figure 5. Air pollution index and gross emissions from stationary sources in 2019 for ten cities of Kazakhstan.
Figure 5. Air pollution index and gross emissions from stationary sources in 2019 for ten cities of Kazakhstan.
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Figure 6. Number of registered vehicles by cities and API in 2019.
Figure 6. Number of registered vehicles by cities and API in 2019.
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Figure 7. Share of households using coal and API in 2019.
Figure 7. Share of households using coal and API in 2019.
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Figure 8. Changes in the emission limit values (ELVs) of the metallurgical enterprises, tons. Data source: Emissions permitting documents of the enterprises.
Figure 8. Changes in the emission limit values (ELVs) of the metallurgical enterprises, tons. Data source: Emissions permitting documents of the enterprises.
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Figure 9. Changes in the ELVs of the power plants, tons. Data source: Emissions permitting documents of the enterprises.
Figure 9. Changes in the ELVs of the power plants, tons. Data source: Emissions permitting documents of the enterprises.
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Table 1. Limit values of the WHO and Kazakhstan for the level of pollutants in the air.
Table 1. Limit values of the WHO and Kazakhstan for the level of pollutants in the air.
PollutantOne-Time MAC, μg m−3Average Daily MAC, μg m−3Average Annual MAC, μg m−3
KazakhstanWHOKazakhstanWHOKazakhstanWHO
TSP500-150---
PM10300-6050-20
PM2.5160-3525-10
SO2500-5020--
NO2200-40--40
Table 2. Estimation of the air pollution levels by Air Pollution Index (API).
Table 2. Estimation of the air pollution levels by Air Pollution Index (API).
Pollution LevelLevel of API
Low0–4
Increased5–6
High7–13
Very high>14
Table 3. Main characteristics of the selected industrial cities.
Table 3. Main characteristics of the selected industrial cities.
CityMajor Industrial PlantsLocation of the Industrial PlantMain Fuel Used by Power PlantsPopulation, Thousand PeopleNumber of Atmospheric Air Monitoring Posts 1Number of Vehicles per 100 PersonsNumber of Transport Vehicles, Thousand 2
Nur-SultanCHP-1, CHP-2In the cityCoal1 1367 (4m + 3a)26300
AlmatyCHP-1, CHP-2, CHP-3In the cityCoal/gas1 91716 (5m + 11a)27515
Ust-KamenogorskUst-Kamenogorsk CHP, Sogrinsk CHP, Kazzinc Ust-Kamenogorsk Metallurgical ComplexIn the cityCoal3337 (5m + 2a)2583
RidderKazzinc Ridder Metallurgical Complex, CHPIn the cityCoal473 (2a + 1a)2512
KaragandaCHP-1, CHP-3In the cityCoal4987 (4m + 3a)23114
TemirtauArcelorMittal Temirtau, CHPIn the cityCoal1794 (3m + 1a)2341
BalkhashBalkhash Copper Smelter, CHPIn the cityCoal734 (3m + 1a)2317
ZhezkazganZhezkazgan Copper Smelter, CHPIn the cityCoal873 (2m + 1a)2320
AktobeAktobe Ferroalloys PlantIn the cityGas 5016 (3m + 3a)1995
PavlodarPavlodar Alumina Plant, CHP-1, CHP-2, CHP-3, KSP SteelIn the cityCoal3337 (2m + 5a)2480
AksuAksu Ferroalloys Plant, GRES2 kmCoal411 (1a)2410
EkibastuzGRES-1, GRES-215 kmCoal1343 (1m + 2a)2432
RudnyiCHPIn the cityCoal1152 (2a)2326
SemeiCHP, cement factoryIn the cityCoal3244 (2m + 2a)2581
1 m—manual station, a—automatic station. 2 Number of transport vehicles by cities was estimated using number of vehicles, per 100 persons.
Table 4. Monthly average concentration of pollutants by selected cities in 2019, µg m−3.
Table 4. Monthly average concentration of pollutants by selected cities in 2019, µg m−3.
CityTSP, μg·m−3
DecJanFebJunJulAugWinterSummer% Difference
Almaty20914114616822518816519417.6
Ust-Kamenogorsk110192240501147818181−55.2
Temirtau281294313305248255296269−9.1
Ridder701001001001001009010011.1
Nur-Sultan100400100200170100200157−21.5
Karaganda16613514297151152148133−10.1
Balkhash12317712020020316014018834.3
Zhezkazgan2742006510492453160485203.1
Pavlodar112.151.461.51601431127513884
Ekibastuz118.861.184.92401471308817295.5
Aktobe017.916.5231513111754.5
Semei10187120947211710394−8.7
CitySO2, μg·m−3
DecJanFebJunJulAugWinterSummer% Difference
Almaty240394812816516510915340.4
Ust-Kamenogorsk1171231105011110211788−24.8
Temirtau48105753073357646−39.5
Ridder4757493035455137−27.5
Nur-Sultan9020201010104310−76.7
Karaganda2836332024243223−28.1
Aktobe15.422.381.82324364028−30
Aksu212122.61716162216−27.3
Balkhash1411919620111536.4
Zhezkazgan107421514142014−30
Pavlodar10.38.67.610.68598−11.1
Ekibastuz8.66.48.765585−37.5
Semei2539292018.6133117−45.2
CityNO2, μg·m−3
DecJanFebJunJulAugWinterSummer% Difference
Almaty11863695152488350−39.8
Ust-Kamenogorsk651060547065456340
Temirtau2812914318192010019−81
Ridder3335322028323327−18.2
Nur-Sultan40503040504040437.5
Karaganda44373836394540400
Aktobe3030.337.92022233322−33.3
Aksu0.610.77102265−16.7
Balkhash9912201513101660
Zhezkazgan42422413632293624.1
Rudnyi40404.8303040283317.9
Pavlodar21.831.321.31316252518−28
Ekibastuz30.129.224.11415202816−42.9
Semei2219241716182217−22.7
Table 5. Emissions of priority pollutants from stationary sources in 2009–2018 in Kazakhstan. Data source: [9,10].
Table 5. Emissions of priority pollutants from stationary sources in 2009–2018 in Kazakhstan. Data source: [9,10].
Emissions of Pollutants into the Atmosphere by Year, Thousand Tons/YearChange in Emissions over 10 Years
2009201020112012201320142015201620172018%
Total emissions23202227234623842283225721802272235824475%
SO27807247747707297297117677868388%
CO43340144544645847945147349247710%
NOx20721623324925025724324726527232%
TSP40414246423837333127−32%
Inorganic dust
(SiO2 70–20%)
20426025931731430331232434067%
Inorganic dust
(SiO2 > 70%)
50762523182018131111−79%
Inorganic dust
(SiO2 < 20%)
304085183%
Coal ash from power plants264748351914991414−48%
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Assanov, D.; Zapasnyi, V.; Kerimray, A. Air Quality and Industrial Emissions in the Cities of Kazakhstan. Atmosphere 2021, 12, 314. https://doi.org/10.3390/atmos12030314

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Assanov D, Zapasnyi V, Kerimray A. Air Quality and Industrial Emissions in the Cities of Kazakhstan. Atmosphere. 2021; 12(3):314. https://doi.org/10.3390/atmos12030314

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Assanov, Daulet, Valeryi Zapasnyi, and Aiymgul Kerimray. 2021. "Air Quality and Industrial Emissions in the Cities of Kazakhstan" Atmosphere 12, no. 3: 314. https://doi.org/10.3390/atmos12030314

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