On January 18th, the Polish city – Wrocław – has climbed to the top of the rankings of the most polluted cities in the world. What is the reason behind Poland’s recurrent problem with smog, and in which ways do the Poles protect themselves against it?
The Far and the Middle East has been struggling with poor air quality problems for decades. No wonder why we automatically associate some of these areas with air pollution (mostly due to the extensive industrial activity and the exhaust fumes from the old models of cars). China, Pakistan, India – these are the countries that occupy the tops of the rankings of the pollution levels in the world.
However, at the beginning of 2021, there appeared a new leader that we wouldn’t quite expect – at least not on the global level. Poland, the country known for its smog problem, has outrun Dhaka, Karachi, and other South Asian cities that usually reach the top in air pollution levels.
The city that has “achieved” that was Wrocław – the capital of the South Silesia region, located in the south-west of Poland. The air pollution sensors have detected that the concentration of PM and toxic gases have exceeded the standards by over 1300 %. However, the other agglomerations – Warsaw and Kraków – weren’t much worse, also reaching the top 10 of the most polluted cities of the world. How is it possible that Polish cities reach the pollution levels of developing countries such as Bangladesh? We will try to explain it in the following paragraphs.
The Polish relationship with coal
Poland’s territory is rich in coal, and for centuries the country has been taking advantage of it. Investment in the mining industry has given it the status of a European coal tycoon. The country has been exporting fossil fuel but also using it for its own purposes.
In recent decades, the trend towards green energy has been escalating, and many European countries have followed it, switching to solar panels and other alternatives to fossil fuels. That, for Poland, meant fewer possibilities in terms of export, which inevitably leads to financial loss. Even though the current government has been propagating the vision of coal as the national treasure, the country has already started preparing the plan of energy transformation.
That doesn’t mean, however, that coal is out of use. It remains the main Polish source of energy. Also, in many households, it is still used for heating. That, together with the particular weather conditions, makes the smog come back every winter.
How does Poland fight the smog problem?
As we’ve mentioned before, the country has already started introducing the energy transformation plan that provides for the closure of mines and investment in green energy. There are a lot of subsidy programs that encourage household owners to install their own solar plants and exchange heating systems.
It is worth noting that the inhabitants of Polish cities are very conscious of the air pollution problem and take personal steps to protect themselves against it. The apps, such as Airly.org, are treated as the first source of data on pollution levels. The air pollution sensor with a display board is becoming an integral part of urban architecture, providing real-time data on PM and toxic gas concentration in the air.