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Coal-loving Poland struggles with killer smog

  • Written by Michel Viatteau
  • Published in World
  • Read: 221

WARSAW -- Smog kills tens of thousands of Poles each year, yet environmental activists say the right-wing government of the coal-loving nation has been dragging its feet on combatting air pollution.

On some winter days, a grey haze obscures the lights of the Polish capital’s skyscrapers and the air smells like burning plastic.

“It’s starting again. Warsaw is second on Air Visual, just after Kathmandu, and ahead of Calcutta and New Delhi,” says Maria, a Polish mother of three young children, as she checks an air quality monitor on her smartphone while sipping her morning coffee.

A 2016 World Health Organization report revealed that an eye-popping 33 of Europe’s 50 most polluted cities were in Poland.

The European Environmental Agency meanwhile blames air pollution for an estimated 50,000 premature deaths per year in the country of 38 million.

Pollution is especially severe in the south, cradle of Poland’s coal industry — whose hub, the city of Katowice, is set to host the COP24 conference on global warming in December.
    
Many Poles have lost faith in the ability of institutions to address the scourge, instead taking matters into their own hands.
    
“In our town of Pszczyna, Poland’s second most polluted city, we have to do something,” said Jan Franek, a 16-year-old member of a student group against smog.
    
“Many of our older residents don’t believe in smog. According to them, you can’t see it so it doesn’t exist,” he added while on a visit to Warsaw to back an anti-pollution petition.
    
The student activists, whose group name plays on the similarity of the words smog and smok (dragon in Polish) and translates as “Don’t feed the smog”, were on hand when the petition was delivered to the energy ministry.
    
Signed by 36,000 people, the petition launched by Greenpeace Poland and local politicians calls on the government to impose strict standards for coal quality.
    
Millions of Poles heat their homes with often low-quality coal, which is the main source of air pollution ahead of cars and industry.
    
The government pledged to introduce coal standards in March 2017 but has yet to do so. The only measure taken by the state has been to ban the sale of old, low-quality boilers.
    
But according to Marek Jozefiak, coordinator of Greenpeace Poland’s climate and energy campaigns, “Modern boilers aren’t enough if we continue to burn low-quality, polluting coal.”