Poland, the host of this year’s U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks, has the second-dirtiest air in Europe, according to a new study.
The study, published Tuesday by the European Environment Agency (EEA), found Poland ranked just below Bulgaria in concentrations of fine particulate matter, pollutants that form when emissions from power plants, industry and cars react in the air. In 2011, six out of the top 10 most polluted cities in Europe were in Poland, with Krakow experiencing 150.5 days each year above the EU’s target levels for air pollution. Poland also had the highest levels of benzo(a)pyrene, a carcinogenic hydrocarbon that’s found in coal tar and also comes from wood burning and car exhaust. BaP is a growing problem in Europe, “especially in areas where domestic coal and wood burning is, or becomes more common,” according to the report.
That statistic isn’t surprising — Poland relies heavily on coal as an energy source. Coal generates 90 percent of Poland’s electricity supply, and the country has been adverse to the EU’s plans to reduce carbon emissions — it’s trying instead to build two new coal-fired power plants without assessing the plants for carbon capture and storage (CCS) readiness, which would be in violation of EU regulations. The country has also come under fire for its website for this year’s UNFCCC talks, which has given a platform to climate deniers and in a blog post appeared to suggest that the positives of melting Arctic ice would outweigh the negatives (the country later said that was not its intention).
Unfortunately, despite its high levels of pollution, Poland seems committed to keeping coal in its energy mix. Along with hosting this year’s UNFCCC talks, Warsaw is also the site of the World Coal Association’s International Coal & Climate Summit, which will be going on alongside the talks. That’s bad news for Poland’s residents — the fine particles emitted by burning coal have been linked to lung cancer and death. In China, a recent study found coal pollution cuts life expediencies by 5.5 years. Exposure to air pollution has also been linked to low birth weights in babies, and has also been linked to asthma, heart disease and kidney damage.
But Poland’s not the only European country to struggle with air pollution. The study found more than 90 percent of people living in European cities breathe air that doesn’t meet the World Health Organization’s standards. Overall, air pollution has fallen in Europe over the last 10 years, but not as much as expected, according to the report. The EU is in the process of reviewing its current air pollution policies, and EEA director Hans Bruyninckx said Europe must do more to reduce the levels of air pollution that are still high in Bulgaria, Poland and other European countries like Slovakia and the Czech Republic. “Large parts of the population do not live in a healthy environment, according to current standards,” Bruyninckx said. “To get on to a sustainable path, Europe will have to be ambitious and go beyond current legislation.”