Study Identifies Best Options to Improve Air Quality and Thus Reduce Health Impacts in Ulaanbaatar, the Most Polluted City in the World in Wintertime

December 22, 2011

Ulaanbaatar, 22 December 2011:  Air pollution has been a plight for the people living in the ger areas of Ulaanbaatar, affecting not only their daily lives but most critically their health. A study undertaken by the World Bank in cooperation with the Mongolian Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism (MNET) estimated that daily exposures to particulate matters which includes the fine particles (PM2.5) and the coarse particles (PM10), are associated with an additional 1600 deaths per year[1] on average and an additional 8500[2] hospital admissions for lung and heart diseases. The total economic value of these health damages would be equal to close to a fifth of Ulaanbaatar’s GDP in 2008.

The particulate matter (PM) concentrations – the way air pollution is measured -- exceed Mongolia’s own annual average air quality standards (AQS) by up to 14 times and the recommended WHO AQSs by up to 35 times. The PM concentrations are particularly high in the cold winter months in the ger areas – where 2/3rd of the population of Ulaanbaatar lives and where many inhabitants rely on stoves to heat their homes. The study shows that in several locations in Ulaanbaatar the PM concentrations are so high that the study team is not aware of similar high monitored PM values in any other city in the world. This pollution includes high concentrations of PM2.5 that is very harmful to human health. In order to bring PM concentrations in line with Mongolia’s air quality standards, PM emissions will have to be reduced by more than 90%.  

The study shows that the most critical factors contributing to the high PM concentrations come from the Ger stoves followed by windblown dust, combustion residues (waste), road dust and to less extent exhaust particles from vehicles and heat only boiler (HOB).  Although total PM emissions from power plants are about the same as from Ger stoves, the power plants have a more limited impact on the high PM concentrations due to their tall stacks. However, it is important to continue to emphasize pollution reduction and energy efficiency improvements in the power plants due to its SO2 and CO2 emissions and their regional and global impacts.

The study shows that by implementing concerted actions that combine cost-effective short-term measures that are well prepared and can be carried out in a relatively short period of time (1-3 years) with medium-term measures that require more resources and time to prepare and roll out, Ulaanbaatar should be able to get substantively cleaner air over the next few years.  This includes accelerating the already established program on replacing inefficient ger stoves with new, cleaner and certified stoves in all the gers and establishing electric heating systems combined with greening and other dust reduction efforts. The study also includes relocation to apartments as a vehicle to get cleaner air in the long term, but the outlined short and medium abatement options are strongly needed in order to quickly bring down the high health costs.

The study is a product of a four-year cooperation between the World Bank, the Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism (MNET), the UB Government, the Ministry of Health, the National University of Mongolia, the Public Health Institute, National Agency of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environmental Monitoring (NAMHEM) and Central Laboratory for Environmental Monitoring (CLEM).

[1] Range from 400 to 2700 deaths per year.
[2] Range from 4000 to 14000 hospital admissions per year.

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