Smog in Poland: Why snow ceased to be a symbol of winter in Poland and gave way to smog?

When the temperature in Poland drops in autumn and winter, the air quality deteriorates. The heating season opens the season for smog in Polish towns and villages. Air pollution is a growing problem in Poland. Although some steps have been already taken, in many places in Poland, air quality exceeds the permissible level. Maintaining an active lifestyle – or living in general – gets complicated in Poland in the wintertime.

air pollution in Poland, smog in Poland

What is smog, why so many areas in Poland are polluted, and why wintertime

Smog is a combination of several air pollutants. The term SMOG comes originally from the mixture of SMoke and fOG in the air. The pollutants that form smog are released in the air when fuels are burnt. In the case of Poland, solid fuels (coal and firewood) are the main pollutant in Poland (other pollutants in Poland come from industry and transport). So the problem increases when winter comes in Poland and villagers burn coal for heat. The problem is also caused by the fact that people burn slurry, rubbish or waste coal (to save money), that the access to district heating is limited in many areas in Poland and that natural gas does not play a significant role in household heating.

These are the main reasons for smog observed in some areas of Poland during wintertime: burning coal, location (eg. mountain valley, river depression where the polluted air is trapped), proximity to industry (agglomerations), car traffic (diesel, old highly-polluting vehicles).

When you look at ‘the smog map’ or an app on your phone, you will notice that the pollution levels are given usually in PM10 and PM2.5 units. Particulate matters (PM) are particles suspended in the air. Depending on their size, they are classified as coarse particles (PM10) and fine particles (PM2.5). Particulate matters include a variety of components such as nitrates, sulfates, chemicals, dust, black carbon and due to their small size, they can penetrate the lungs and cause heart, lung and other diseases.

Smog alerts in Poland

Countries all over the world use different air quality indices and standards. What’s more, there are differences in air pollution alert systems – “poor air” alert in one country is labeled as “good air” by authorities in another country.

The European Union imposes on Poland public information obligations, including alerts and information about air pollution. However, the alert thresholds are defined by the European Union for many pollutants but they are not set for PM levels. Some countries take advantage of this situation and their PM thresholds and alerts are not defined as strictly compared to other countries. Until recently, it was the case with Poland. Fortunately, in October 2019, Poland has introduced a new regulation on stricter smog information standards (the previous standards were the worst in the European Union). Under the new law, a smog alert in Poland will be announced if the PM10 level exceeds 150, information about a smog level is obligatory if the PM10 level exceeds 100 (the previous regulations set 300 and 200, respectively).

This is definitely a positive change, however, the World Health Organization’s guideline stipulates that PM10 should not exceed the level of 50.

To compare Poland with other countries, check worldwide air quality ranking (updated daily). While in Asia the highest air pollution is recorded, according to the World Health Organization report, Europe is exposed to more air pollution than the global average, with Eastern European countries producing the most air pollution.

Polish authorities are obliged to inform you about air quality. There are two kinds of smog reports:

  • INFORMATION (poziom informowania). In case of exceeding the information level of PM10 (100), small children, pregnant women, seniors, and people with heart or respiratory problems are advised to limit staying outside. It is also recommended to refrain from sports activity in the open air.
  • ALERT (alarm smogowy / poziom alarmowy). In case of exceeding the alert level of PM10 (150), it is recommended to limit staying outside to a minimum.

Air pollution in Poland – information resources covering Poland

World Health Organization provides a comprehensive section on air pollution. European Environment Agency and its section on air pollution will give you a European perspective. Go there to read statistics and reports before they reach the news and the media so that you can draw own conclusions. Understanding air pollution issues and their causes is the first step to finding ways to live in Poland without worrying.

Chief Inspectorate for Environmental Protection is a Polish environment protection agency. Their website includes an air quality section that features some information available in English, eg. pollution data, alerts, maps.

Air Quality Index: 138 air quality monitoring stations in Poland. The data published on the Air Quality Index is real-time. Their index is based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard.

European Air Quality Index: Their index is based on The European Environment Agency standard (the agency of the European Union). The index depicts the situation 6 hours ago.

Smog apps available for Poland

Some smog apps covering Poland include Airly (Android and iOS), Kanarek (Android), the app of Polish Chief Inspectorate for Environmental Protection (Android and iOS), European Environment Agency’s app (Android and iOS), Smog Alert Android, Smog Alert iOS.

It is important to remember that some applications show data with an hour or more delay or based on private small monitoring stations (they happen to break or are located too close to the ground which doesn’t provide accurate measurements for the area). Smog experts advise that data from smog applications should be considered just as trend indicator and we should look at it with caution and if possible without emotion and calmly – particularly in the case of very thick fog. It’s important to use common sense when using smog applications.

How can you cope with smog in Poland? How to protect yourself during wintertime in Poland and ease your worry about the air you breathe?

The most popular tips for living healthy when there is smog in the air include:

  1. Check the daily reports during wintertime in Poland. If you are planning to spend more time in the open air in your area – check the real-time data – the conditions may change, eg. strong wind can dispel pollution. Many schools in Poland have their monitoring stations or use the data received from the local governments to plan children’s outdoor activities accordingly.
  2. When air pollutions levels are at their peak, avoid prolonged outdoor exposure.
  3. Avoid outdoor exercise (especially cardio workout) when smog is in the air.
  4. Talk to your family about air pollution. Explain it to your children and try to address all their questions
  5. If you are going to get a face mask (in Polish: maska), make some research to buy the right one – not every mask will give you enough respiratory protection.
  6. The same applies to air filters (in Polish: oczyszczacz powietrza) – do thorough research before investing in products for cleaning the indoor air.
  7. Take weekend breaks in the fresh air – check the map of Poland – there are areas in Poland with clean air.
  8. Decorate your home with houseplants. They clean the air naturally and are easily find in many stores in Poland. Make your home greener – it will improve the air quality and boost your mood. The famous now NASA list features the best air-cleaning plants for your home. You can buy them at any florist’s in Poland or at DIY stores like Leroy Merlin, Castorama or Obi. Here to can check their Polish names.
  9. People can fight back to reduce air pollution by reducing household waste, recycling, decreasing energy consumption or… cycling.

Another way of coping with the air pollution is NOT to use any smog apps and adjust your attitude – stop worrying about the smog that you have little control over and focus on things you can influence – your immune system and fitness. Strengthen your family’s immune system with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Help your body become strong.

Many public protests have taken place in Poland calling for state actions against air pollution in Poland. The improvement process takes time but with public awareness and the demand for environmental quality, the changes are happening. Significant activities towards air pollution reduction are taken by the local authorities in Poland. For example, Kraków has introduced from September 2019 a ban on burning solid fuels (mainly hard coal or firewood) for heating at households. Poland’s government introduces programs of heating systems modernization, ban on the sale of boilers that lack emission controls or old heaters replacement. Let’s hope that soon the snow will become again the symbol of winter in Poland, not smog.

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