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|1||Rzeszow, Subcarpathian Voivodeship|
|3||Krakow, Lesser Poland Voivodeship|
|7||Poznan, Greater Poland|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
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|1||Zielona Gora, Lubusz|
|2||Lodz, Lodz Voivodeship|
|5||Wroclaw, Lower Silesia|
|9||Poznan, Greater Poland|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
2022 Air quality average
2022 average US AQI
2022 average PM2.5 concentration in Poland: 3.3 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value
|2022 Poland cleanest city|| Nowa Swidzialowka , Podlasie|
|2022 Poland most polluted city|| Orzesze , Silesia|
Poland is situated in Central Europe and covers 312,696 square kilometres. In 2019 ithad an estimated population of 38,383,000 making it the fifth most populousstate in the European Union.
In 2019, Poland’s capital, Warsaw recorded an average PM2.5 reading of 17.3 whichclassified it as “Moderate” according to recommended levels from the WorldHealth Organisation (WHO). In July that year, Warsaw recorded the WHO targetfigure of less than 10 µg/m³ (8.6 µg/m³). In June and August, “Good” levelswere 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 citiesare covered in a miasma, which often smells like burning plastic. This forcesresidents to stay indoors whenever possible and avoid the badly polluted air.It has been quoted that approximately 44,000 Poles die prematurely, each yearfrom illnesses which are directly related to poor air quality.
It is also said that people who live in Warsaw who experience this poor qualityair most of the time would be damaging their lungs in the same way as smoking1,000 cigarettes. Children are especially at risk because they naturallybreathe faster than an adult and their lungs have not yet fully developed. Yettwo-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 thisscenario is not how he wants children to think of as a typical winter scene. Hewould rather they think of sledges, snowmen and snowball fights.
In September 2019, the government launched a €25 billion scheme over the next 10years to tackle some of the country’s poor air pollution hotspots. 4 millionhomes and public buildings were “earmarked” to be renovated and be equippedwith improved insulation and more efficient heating apparatus. It is thelargest scheme of its kind across Europe.
Sceptics are concerned though about its ability to achieve its goals because there doesnot appear to be anyone who is empowered to tackle any obstacles which keepappearing. Nobody is taking overall responsibility.
There is a town in Southern Poland that has been treating children for over a centurywhich ironically has been observed to harbour levels of benzo(a)pyrene, whichis 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 oncoal to power its homes and economy. The country’s coal industry remains animportant part of the local economy. Poland is the second largest coal-miningcountry in Europe, after Germany. In 2012, mining produced 144 million metrictons of coal which provided 55 per cent of the required domestic energy and 75per 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 1,000sof Poles.
It must be noted, however, that the overall use of coal has decreased since the1980s and an increase in natural gas as a fuel source is increasing, albeitslowly. Unfortunately, coal is still the dominant force.
By 2023, Poland is expected to be responsible for 50 per cent of coal use by smallconsumers throughout Europe. And household heating is the main contributor tofine particulate pollution.
As with many other countries, another major source of pollution comes fromvehicles. Many of Poland’s vehicles are over 13 years old and produce a hugeamount of exhaust fumes. Replacing all these vehicles with modern, cleaner oneswill be both expensive and time-consuming.
This source of pollution rises dramatically in summer and maybe particularly intensein urban hot-spots. Despite the efforts to promote electric vehicles,especially through electric buses, Poland has the oldest and sixth largestvehicle fleet in the EU, with 24.3 million cars. Many of these cars do not meet the latestrecommended “Euro V” standards, many struggle to meet the “Euro 3” emissionsstandard. Unlike pollution from domestic sources which tend to accumulate inlocalised areas, vehicle pollution is constantly changing as vehicles movearound. This resulting spatial and temporal fluctuation of pollution dynamics dependson traffic patterns and behaviour which leads to highly differing pollutionexposure profiles within the urban air shed.
According to a 2018 report from the World Health Organisation (WHO), 36 of Europe’s mostpolluted cities are in Poland. In some cities, the mean ambient levels ofconcentration of the PM2.5 particulate matter are twice as high as permittedunder European law. The impact of air pollution on health is substantial, inparticular for the elderly and for children. Almost 1 in 9 of the prematuredeaths which can be directly linked to PM2.5 particles in the EU was found tobe in Poland. Poor quality air contributes to almost a quarter of cases ofbronchitis among children. Some 200,000 cases are recorded each year.
The morbidity levels rise pro-rata in places where residential demand for heat isthe highest, as this causes high levels of air pollution in winter. Pollutionis also damaging to the economy as nearly 8 per cent of lost workdays, due tosickness 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 thepioneering countries that started to adopt the understanding that air pollutionand industrial improvement are not inextricably linked. And you can have onewithout the other. However, the reduction of the fine particulate matter isslow to make any real difference.
The reduction of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) in the 1990s wasmainly due to reforms made in the power sector and heavy industry. This waswhere large amounts of pollution were produced in localised areas and thereforeeasier to tackle. The small particulate matter is produced in disaggregated householdsall 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. Townsand cities situated in valleys suffer badly especially when inversion occurswhich traps the polluted air thus preventing it from escaping into the upperatmosphere. This is particularly noticeable in the south and southwest becauseof the mountainous terrain.
Only eleven of the sixteen administration regions in Poland have introducedanti-smog regulations, which require households to replace non-compliantsolid-fuel boilers (manually fed-coal boilers with low-quality coal, wood andtrash used as fuel) with more efficient boilers which include gas boilers, heatpumps, renewable energy-based systems and eco-design boilers.
Poor air quality can lead to lung cancer, strokes, heart attacks and acute respiratorydiseases in children. Polluted air also has a negative impact on ecosystems anddestruction of materials (such as corrosion of metals).
Due to adverse impacts on human health and the ecosystem, there is an annual airquality 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 stillunderlying problems at different times of the year. In summer it comes fromhigh levels of tropospheric ozone and in winter, from high levels of PMparticulate matter.
Ozone is a strong oxidiser which not only is hazardous to health but also destroysmaterials and crops. Exposure to even slightly raised levels can cause aninflammatory response to the eyes, the respiratory tract, as well as decreasinglung capacity. It can also cause a drop in blood pressure and bring about extremefatigue.
PM2.5 are undoubtedly the most dangerous to human health because, due to theirmicroscopic 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 aretiny air sacs situated at the base of the bronchial tubes. These air sacs areresponsible for the supply of oxygen to the bloodstream and the removal ofcarbon dioxide. It is therefore easy to see how these tiny pollutants can enterthe bloodstream and travel around the body.
Even healthy people can experience impacts on their health due to pollutantssuspended in the air. The extent of the damage depends on many variables. Theconcentration level of the pollutant, the length of time exposed to it and thepresence of any pre-existing medical problems.
High levels of pollution can immediately aggravate cardiovascular and respiratoryillnesses, add stress to the heart and lungs by making them work harder inorder to supply the body with the levels of oxygen it needs. Cells can quicklybecome damaged and will take quite some time to repair themselves.
Long-term exposure accelerates the ageing of the lungs and eventually cause them to losecapacity and show a decrease in their function. Diseases such as asthma,bronchitis, emphysema, and possibly some types of cancer can develop under suchcircumstances.
The most susceptible groups of people are those with pre-existing conditions suchas those suffering from heart disease, coronary artery disease or congestiveheart failure. Those already suffering because of lung diseases such as asthma,emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Pregnant women needto take extra care as do senior citizens. Children under the age of 14 need tobe careful as they breathe faster than an adult because their organs are notyet fully grown. Those people whose job dictates that they spend time outdoorsneed to take precautions whenever possible.
Wearing good quality masks is always good advice to anybody who needs to venture outsidewhen the levels of polluted air are unusually high.
One of the most polluted cities in Poland is Zgierz. In December 2020 it wasproducing an average US AQI reading of 88 which classified it as “Moderate”. Atthe 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 thanprevious years when figures of 21.9 µg/m³ and 19.2 µg/m³ were recorded for 2018and 2017 respectively. Strangely enough, though in July the figure was 10 µg/m³which falls into the World Health Organisation (WHO) target classification.
In January 2020, the Polish city of Wroclaw reported the second-worst air qualityin the world. Only Lahore in Pakistan was worse. And Krakow, which is anotherPolish city ranked as number 4.
Poland’s worst air quality can be found in the south-west where particulate matter canexceed 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. Thenew boilers will be retrofitted and will considerably reduce the smog-creatingparticles 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 tohealth. In this region, not only is low-grade coal burnt in domestic boilers,but also unseasoned wood and even garbage. Unseasoned wood being a largecontributing 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 beenhired to promote the boiler replacement initiative in 55 Polish municipalities.These ‘eco-advisors’ visit schools, community and medical centres, encouragingresidents to burn less coal and unseasoned wood and consider upgrading theirboilers to ones that are less damaging to the environment. By 2023, it is hopedthat all old boilers in this region will have been replaced.
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