Residents of Poland have been suffering some of the world’s worst air pollution today, with the level of particulate matter in some places over nine times above the maximum recommended thresholds.

At one stage this morning, the Polish city of Wrocław had the second-worst air quality in the world, behind only Lahore in Pakistan, according to AirVisual, a Swiss-based air monitoring service. Kraków, another Polish city, was fourth on the list.

Meanwhile, in the capital, Warsaw, particulate levels were two or three times above Poland’s official recommended maximum thresholds. The eastern city of Lublin was four times above the limits.

Some of the worst recorded air was in Racibórz, a town in Poland’s highly polluted south west, where particulate matter exceeded norms by 1012%, reports website

Poland has long had some of Europe’s lowest air quality, and it is smaller towns, rather than larger cities, that are often the most polluted. In a recent ranking of the places with the worst air quality in Poland by the NGO Smog Alarm, Kraków and Katowice were the only two major cities to feature, with Pszczyna, Rybnik and Wodzisław Śląski topping the list.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) ranking of the EU cities with the most polluted air produced similar findings. Poland took 36 of the top 50 places, most of which were smaller cities.

Both the WHO and the EU Environment Agency estimate that air pollution causes tens of thousands of premature deaths in Poland each year. The Polish government launched a clean air programme last year to tackle the problem, but it has had “meagre effects”, Rzeczpospolita reports.

“Bureaucracy, inaccessibility, lack of communication and the relatively low subsidies” available to help people insulate their homes and modernise their heating systems have led to very low uptake, wrote the newspaper. The programme has reportedly been in danger of losing EU funds over such concerns.

After being re-elected in October, the government set up a new climate ministry. The minister in charge, Michał Kurtyka, acknowledges that Poland still has a lot to do to tackle air pollution.

With limited action from successive national governments, some cities have taken the lead in seeking to tackle air pollution. Kraków, which has been notorious for its bad air in recent years, has experimented with the use of drones to monitor what residents are burning in their homes, introduced more electric buses, and offers free public transport during times of bad pollution.

In September last year, it became the first city in the country to ban the burning of coal and wood. It also launched a mobile app that allows people to report on houses they suspect are burning illegal substances.

Main image credit: EEA European Air Quality Index

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