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.
— Pan Rysownik (2️⃣0️⃣2️⃣0️⃣ EDITION) (@PanRysownik) January 17, 2020
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 Gazeta.pl.
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.
Poland has 36 of Europe's 50 most polluted cites on an updated list published by @WHO (up from 33 on the previous ranking). 72% of Polish cities violate the EU's air quality target (second only to Bulgaria at 83%).
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) May 8, 2018
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.
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.
Kraków has launched an app that allows users who spot chimneys producing suspiciously dirty smoke (suggesting the burning of illegal substances such as coal or trash, which are a major cause of air pollution) to send a photo and geolocation data to the authorities to investigate pic.twitter.com/YpVo1Z7BRq
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 2, 2019
Main image credit: EEA European Air Quality Index
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland and assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Krakow. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, The Independent and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.