|3||Pleszew, Greater Poland|
|4||Zdzieszowice, Opole Voivodeship|
|6||Poznan, Greater Poland|
|8||Wroclaw, Lower Silesia|
|9||Jedlina-Zdroj, Lower Silesia|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
|1||Jelenia Gora, Lower Silesia|
|2||Klodzko, Lower Silesia|
|3||Walbrzych, Lower Silesia|
|4||Biala Podlaska, Lublin|
|7||Sieniawa Zarska, Lubusz|
|8||Szczecinek, West Pomerania|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
Poland is situated in Central Europe and covers 312,696 square kilometres. In 2019 it had an estimated population of 38,383,000 making it the fifth most populous state in the European Union.
In 2019, Poland’s capital, Warsaw recorded an average PM2.5 reading of 17.3 which classified it as “Moderate” according to recommended levels from the World Health Organisation (WHO). In July that year, Warsaw recorded the WHO target figure of less than 10 µg/m³ (8.6 µg/m³). In June and August, “Good” levels were measured between 10-12 µg/m³ (10.7 and 10.1 respectively). For the nine remaining months, a “Moderate” figure was recorded with figures between 12.1 and 35.4 µg/m³.
Towards the end of autumn and the beginning of winter, most of the large Polish cities are covered in a miasma, which often smells like burning plastic. This forces residents to stay indoors whenever possible and avoid the badly polluted air. It has been quoted that approximately 44,000 Poles die prematurely, each year from illnesses which are directly related to poor air quality.
It is also said that people who live in Warsaw who experience this poor quality air most of the time would be damaging their lungs in the same way as smoking 1,000 cigarettes. Children are especially at risk because they naturally breathe faster than an adult and their lungs have not yet fully developed. Yet two-thirds of kindergartens are located in extremely polluted areas.
Residents need to protect themselves when venturing outdoors during the winter months. Nearly everybody is seen wearing some type of face mask. Poland’s prime minister said that this scenario is not how he wants children to think of as a typical winter scene. He would rather they think of sledges, snowmen and snowball fights.
In September 2019, the government launched a €25 billion scheme over the next 10 years to tackle some of the country’s poor air pollution hotspots. 4 million homes and public buildings were “earmarked” to be renovated and be equipped with improved insulation and more efficient heating apparatus. It is the largest scheme of its kind across Europe.
Sceptics are concerned though about its ability to achieve its goals because there does not appear to be anyone who is empowered to tackle any obstacles which keep appearing. Nobody is taking overall responsibility.
There is a town in Southern Poland that has been treating children for over a century which ironically has been observed to harbour levels of benzo(a)pyrene, which is a carcinogenic compound, which are 28 times above the acceptable limits.
Most of the air pollution across Poland is the result of the country’s dependence on coal to power its homes and economy. The country’s coal industry remains an important part of the local economy. Poland is the second largest coal-mining country in Europe, after Germany. In 2012, mining produced 144 million metric tons of coal which provided 55 per cent of the required domestic energy and 75 per cent of the consumption need to produce power. With figures such as these, it is understandable that the industry as a whole provides employment for 1,000s of Poles.
It must be noted, however, that the overall use of coal has decreased since the 1980s and an increase in natural gas as a fuel source is increasing, albeit slowly. Unfortunately, coal is still the dominant force.
By 2023, Poland is expected to be responsible for 50 per cent of coal use by small consumers throughout Europe. And household heating is the main contributor to fine particulate pollution.
As with many other countries, another major source of pollution comes from vehicles. Many of Poland’s vehicles are over 13 years old and produce a huge amount of exhaust fumes. Replacing all these vehicles with modern, cleaner ones will be both expensive and time-consuming.
This source of pollution rises dramatically in summer and maybe particularly intense in urban hot-spots. Despite the efforts to promote electric vehicles, especially through electric buses, Poland has the oldest and sixth largest vehicle fleet in the EU, with 24.3 million cars. Many of these cars do not meet the latest recommended “Euro V” standards, many struggle to meet the “Euro 3” emissions standard. Unlike pollution from domestic sources which tend to accumulate in localised areas, vehicle pollution is constantly changing as vehicles move around. This resulting spatial and temporal fluctuation of pollution dynamics depends on traffic patterns and behaviour which leads to highly differing pollution exposure profiles within the urban air shed.
According to a 2018 report from the World Health Organisation (WHO), 36 of Europe’s most polluted cities are in Poland. In some cities, the mean ambient levels of concentration of the PM2.5 particulate matter are twice as high as permitted under European law. The impact of air pollution on health is substantial, in particular for the elderly and for children. Almost 1 in 9 of the premature deaths which can be directly linked to PM2.5 particles in the EU was found to be in Poland. Poor quality air contributes to almost a quarter of cases of bronchitis among children. Some 200,000 cases are recorded each year.
The morbidity levels rise pro-rata in places where residential demand for heat is the highest, as this causes high levels of air pollution in winter. Pollution is also damaging to the economy as nearly 8 per cent of lost workdays, due to sickness are attributed to pollution-related sick-days.
Overall, Poland has done exceptionally well in reducing some of its air pollutants, namely sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx). Poland was one of the pioneering countries that started to adopt the understanding that air pollution and industrial improvement are not inextricably linked. And you can have one without the other. However, the reduction of the fine particulate matter is slow to make any real difference.
The reduction of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) in the 1990s was mainly due to reforms made in the power sector and heavy industry. This was where large amounts of pollution were produced in localised areas and therefore easier to tackle. The small particulate matter is produced in disaggregated households all over the country and therefore is harder to tackle as a whole.
The quality of winter air can also be affected by the topography of a place. Towns and cities situated in valleys suffer badly especially when inversion occurs which traps the polluted air thus preventing it from escaping into the upper atmosphere. This is particularly noticeable in the south and southwest because of the mountainous terrain.
Only eleven of the sixteen administration regions in Poland have introduced anti-smog regulations, which require households to replace non-compliant solid-fuel boilers (manually fed-coal boilers with low-quality coal, wood and trash used as fuel) with more efficient boilers which include gas boilers, heat pumps, renewable energy-based systems and eco-design boilers.
Poor air quality can lead to lung cancer, strokes, heart attacks and acute respiratory diseases in children. Polluted air also has a negative impact on ecosystems and destruction of materials (such as corrosion of metals).
Due to adverse impacts on human health and the ecosystem, there is an annual air quality assessment undertaken to measure sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), benzene (C6H6) and ozone (O3), as well as PM10 particulate matter: lead, arsenic, cadmium, nickel and benzo(a)pyrene.
Despite many improvements being made to Poland’s air quality, there are still underlying problems at different times of the year. In summer it comes from high levels of tropospheric ozone and in winter, from high levels of PM particulate matter.
Ozone is a strong oxidiser which not only is hazardous to health but also destroys materials and crops. Exposure to even slightly raised levels can cause an inflammatory response to the eyes, the respiratory tract, as well as decreasing lung capacity. It can also cause a drop in blood pressure and bring about extreme fatigue.
PM2.5 are undoubtedly the most dangerous to human health because, due to their microscopic size, they have the ability to bypass the body’s defence system. Once inhaled they can travel deep into the lungs as far the alveoli which are tiny air sacs situated at the base of the bronchial tubes. These air sacs are responsible for the supply of oxygen to the bloodstream and the removal of carbon dioxide. It is therefore easy to see how these tiny pollutants can enter the bloodstream and travel around the body.
Even healthy people can experience impacts on their health due to pollutants suspended in the air. The extent of the damage depends on many variables. The concentration level of the pollutant, the length of time exposed to it and the presence of any pre-existing medical problems.
High levels of pollution can immediately aggravate cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, add stress to the heart and lungs by making them work harder in order to supply the body with the levels of oxygen it needs. Cells can quickly become damaged and will take quite some time to repair themselves.
Long-term exposure accelerates the ageing of the lungs and eventually cause them to lose capacity and show a decrease in their function. Diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and possibly some types of cancer can develop under such circumstances.
The most susceptible groups of people are those with pre-existing conditions such as those suffering from heart disease, coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure. Those already suffering because of lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Pregnant women need to take extra care as do senior citizens. Children under the age of 14 need to be careful as they breathe faster than an adult because their organs are not yet fully grown. Those people whose job dictates that they spend time outdoors need to take precautions whenever possible.
Wearing good quality masks is always good advice to anybody who needs to venture outside when the levels of polluted air are unusually high.
One of the most polluted cities in Poland is Zgierz. In December 2020 it was producing an average US AQI reading of 88 which classified it as “Moderate”. At the same time, levels of PM2.5 and PM10 were recorded as 30 µg/m³ and 33 µg/m³, respectively. The average reading for 2019 was 27 which is much worse than previous years when figures of 21.9 µg/m³ and 19.2 µg/m³ were recorded for 2018 and 2017 respectively. Strangely enough, though in July the figure was 10 µg/m³ which falls into the World Health Organisation (WHO) target classification.
In January 2020, the Polish city of Wroclaw reported the second-worst air quality in the world. Only Lahore in Pakistan was worse. And Krakow, which is another Polish city ranked as number 4.
Poland’s worst air quality can be found in the south-west where particulate matter can exceed the average by as much as 1012 per cent.
In southern Poland, the EU is helping fund the replacement of more than half a million coal-fired domestic boilers. The new boilers will be retrofitted and will considerably reduce the smog-creating particles emitted by the old inefficient boilers which are currently in use.
It is hoped that such a move will reduce the number of premature deaths, currently attributed to poor air quality.
One of the most polluted areas in Europe is the Malopolska region of Poland where the winter smog is a real threat to health. In this region, not only is low-grade coal burnt in domestic boilers, but also unseasoned wood and even garbage. Unseasoned wood being a large contributing factor to PM2.5 particulates.
In this region, air pollution counts for PLN 3 billion [Polish Zloty] (around €800 million) per year in health costs. With the help of EU funding, 60 clean air experts and scientists have been hired to promote the boiler replacement initiative in 55 Polish municipalities. These ‘eco-advisors’ visit schools, community and medical centres, encouraging residents to burn less coal and unseasoned wood and consider upgrading their boilers to ones that are less damaging to the environment. By 2023, it is hoped that all old boilers in this region will have been replaced.
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