Light vs air: Ukrainian cities encountered an unprecedented influx of power generators. Which among them are the least harmful to health?

Light vs air: Ukrainian cities encountered an unprecedented influx of power generators. Which among them are the least harmful to health?

Combustion products worsen the already not the best favourable environmental situation, but are outweighed by the benefits of their use

Light vs air: Ukrainian cities encountered an unprecedented influx of power generators. Which among them are the least harmful to health?
Photo: UNIAN

Yesterday, on December 12, the Committee on Finance, Taxation and Customs Policy recommended to the Verkhovna Rada to free the storage of fuel for generators with a volume of up to 2,000 litres from licensing, as well as to specify that generators are not a polluting source for the purposes of environmental taxation.

Diesel generators have become a lifesaver for businesses and their customers during power outages caused by aggressor attacks on energy infrastructure. Autonomous power supply systems have made it possible to ensure the stable operation of work processes, food retail and catering in particular. But everything has a reverse side.

Petrol and diesel combustion does not belong to the friendliest processes for the environment and its inhabitants. Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, called the health problems arising from this one of the most serious negative consequences of blackouts. "There is a high risk that potentially toxic fuels – coal, bottled gas or diesel generators – will be used in attempts to keep warm and ensure at least minimal vital activity," he said during his October visit to Ukraine.

In Kyiv, due to the dense concentration of business and population, the number of generators is higher than the national average. Several stores-outside-the-house, kiosks, and salons might operate simultaneously in one yard, and all of them are forced to use self-contained power supply. "The generator is a source of air pollution," says the State Ecological Inspectorate of the Capital District.

Mind investigated what kind of effect this may have on the citizens in particular and the environmental situation in the city in general.

How many generators have been purchased? The total number of generators purchased after the October attacks on infrastructure is close to 200,000. Only for the first three decades of November, according to customs statistics, 136,000 generating units of various types worth about $88 million were imported to Ukraine.

About 65% of imported generators are spark ignition (petrol) generators with a capacity under 7.5 kV-A.

According to the Epicenter chain, the largest Ukrainian DIY retailer, from October 10 to November 10, 2022, Ukrainians bought 9.6 times more generators than in the same time period last year. The most popular among consumers were petrol generators, whose share in the sales structure amounted to almost 82%. The share of diesel generators for this period was 11%, and the rest fell on combined and special devices.

In this regard, it should be noted that a comparable number may still be on the way or in standby mode from the supplier. The peak of shipments to Ukraine is probable in January – after the European delivery services will be more unloaded than in the pre-New Year period. The abolition of import duties on generators, approved by the government in November also contributed to stimulating the demand.

What does a generator produce? Exhaust fumes similar to those from cars, containing carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons and aldehydes.

However, cars are subject to strict environmental standards aimed at reducing environmental impact. For generators, such standards are much less strict, and the replacement of filters is left to the conscience of the user.

Is there an environmental difference in the "kinds" of generators? Yes, there is. Diesel generators are the most environmentally friendly. Their fumes are the least toxic.

To recall: the vast majority of generators used in Ukraine are petrol ones.

How is the ambient air quality measured in the capital? The Kyiv city air quality monitoring system is officially integrated into the international service IQAir that forms the world ranking of cities by atmospheric air.

There is a European-style network of five reference observation points of the ambient air in Kyiv that are complemented by over 40 indicative posts.

Information from monitoring stations of both types is available to users of the Kyiv Digital mobile app, where they can also receive notifications about high levels of air pollution.

Have there been any exceedances of the standards in recent months? Yes, but not critical.

Furthermore, the values vary significantly depending on the district and day of the week.

Thus, during weekends, the load on the power system decreases and stabilisation outages are applied less frequently, and, therefore, the use of generators decreases. On Sunday, December 11, environmental services and bots described the air quality in the capital as "excellent."

For whom is the exceedance of standards dangerous? First of all, for people with respiratory diseases, with asthma at the top of the list. "There is no specific data yet. However, the impact of generators on the environment can affect people with asthma, those with heart disease," says Volodymyr Boreiko, director of the Kyiv Ecological and Cultural Center NGO.

Inhaling contaminated fine dust that can penetrate into the blood and lungs, also negatively affects the brain and nervous system, contributing to the development of chronic diseases.

However, given the wartime situation, generators are a necessary and choiceless evil. "There is, of course, a pressure on the atmosphere. But I would not make a tragedy out of it. This (the use of generators) is short-lived, expensive and not comparable to the technogenic load from cars," said the leader of the Green Party, Vitaliy Kononov, warning that the number of generators used in Kyiv is not as critical. In his opinion, there are more positives than negatives from the use of generators.

Is there any correlation between the level of the harm and the weather? Yes, it is direct.

High humidity and fog trap emissions, which leads to their accumulation.

Does it make sense to use medical masks? According to medical and environmental experts, no.

Is the employment of generators somehow regulated? Yes, it is.

If the letter of the law is to be followed strictly, one cannot just buy a generator and start using it, he needs to receive a number of permits.

Companies that use generators must pay an environmental tax levied on air emissions. The rate of tax is determined by the capacity of the generator. Also, a number of administrative requirements apply to fuel storage conditions.

That is, for a utilitarian entrepreneur in the capital, for example, the owner of a small coffee shop, using a generator, there are two main risks of becoming a lawbreaker: through using a generator without obtaining an emission permit, and trough storing fuel for refuelling without obtaining a licence for it.

What are the consequences of violating the rules of use? During the period of martial law – none.

"The State Ecological Inspectorate of the Capital District supports the development of the country's economy, so no penalties will be applied to the owners of generators," the agency assures. All that officials ask is to submit a declaration to the oblast state administrations, Kyiv City State Administration or oblast military administrations. This can be done via the DIYA portal.

Storage of fuel without a licence in pre-war times was punishable by a fine of up to UAH 500,000. Danylo Hetmantsev, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Finance, Taxation and Customs Policy, has assured that such fines will not be levied in winter (except for petrol stations, refineries and wholesalers), given the war conditions

Yesterday, on December 12, the Committee recommended the Verkhovna Rada to exempt the storage of fuel for generators up to 2,000 litres from licensing. "Taxpayers will have the right to store fuel in large quantities to refuel generators based on a declaration submitted by a business entity to the State Tax Service. This procedure will be in force during martial law and 30 days after its termination", Hetmantsev wrote, "It is also stipulated that generators are not a source of pollution for environmental taxation".

Are there any other "side effects" from generators? Yes, excessive noise level.

According to Volodymyr Boreiko, loud sounds produced by generators pose risks to the health of vulnerable groups, particularly, to the elderly and children. Making the generator completely noiseless is impossible due to the features of the internal combustion engine.

Diesel generators produce sound in the range of 80–90 dB. Petrol ones, 60-70 dB. The most quiet are inverter solutions, their noise level is 50-60 dB. The greater the power of the generator is, the higher is the noise from its operation.

You can determine the parameter at the domestic level with a sound level meter, but the latter is not the most popular device among Kyiv dwellers. For comparison, a vacuum cleaner produces noise at the level of 80 dB during its operation.

The noise of a running generator can be muffled by using damping pads with the engine; sound boardings, enclosed casing; or employing it in minimal mode.

The permissible noise level is established by the Sanitary Norms of Ukraine: it should not exceed 55-70 dB in the areas adjacent to residential buildings.

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