Coal-loving Poland having hard time with killer smog

Michel Viatteau –
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 combating 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 Kolkata and New Delhi,” says Maria, a Polish mother of three, as she checks an air quality monitor on her smartphone while sipping her morning coffee.
A 2016 World Health Organization report revealed 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.
“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.
The student activists 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.
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.”
According to pollution watchdog Polish Smog Alert, part of the problem is that the official pollution norm hides the severity of the issue.
“If we applied the pollution threshold adopted in France here in Poland, many cities would be in a state of alert for dozens of days, some even for two months out of the year,” says PAS activist Piotr Siergiej.
Technology Minister Jadwiga Emilewicz has voiced concern over the high death toll from pollution-related illnesses, promising that “an improvement” will be felt within five years. —AFP