Poles Told Not to Burn Garbage as Another Winter of Smog Looms

Written by Maciej Martewicz. This article first appeared in Bloomberg News.

Poland is hoping a media campaign will help it clean up the European Union’s most polluted cities.

The bloc’s biggest eastern economy will start a media campaign to help teach Poles not to burn poor-quality coal or even rubbish to keep their homes warm, the biggest source of air pollution in winter. The 3 million-zloty ($830,000) campaign, funded by Norwegian grants, is part of a wider government effort to tackle smog that last year at times rivaled that in Calcutta and Beijing.

“I hope that we’ll be avoid the kind of smog episodes we experienced in January or February,” Katarzyna Wiech, a director at the Chief Environment Protection Inspectorate, said by telephone. “The main reason is so-called energy poverty in many areas.”

The World Health Organization said last year that 16 of the EU’s 20 most-polluted towns and cities, including Zywiec, Krakow and Katowice, are located in Poland. Pollution causes more than 45,000 premature deaths in the country, still below the level in Germany and Italy, as people heat their houses with low quality fuel, mainly to save money.

“We want to raise the awareness of Poles and we want to be ready for this winter,” Deputy Environment Minister Pawel Salek said Tuesday at a news conference in Warsaw.

Pollution in all its forms killed 9 million people worldwide in 2015 and, by one measure, led to economic damage of $4.6 trillion, according to the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, published last week by the U.K. medical journal.

Difficulties with coal supply, especially for households, may make Poland’s smog problem worse. The nation’s biggest miner is set to miss its 2017 production target, increasing the need for imports, and the government has set up an inter-ministerial task force to help tackle transport bottlenecks.

Poland earlier this year introduced a law that set emission thresholds on new household furnaces and will use a new tax on plastic bags to subsidize fuel for the poorest families.

So-called low-stack emissions, from sources below 40 meters (131 meters) in height, are responsible for 70 percent to 85 percent of smog, according to the State Environment Protection Institute, which runs 310 air quality measuring stations nationwide and will run the media campaign.

“The ecological awareness of Poles is often at a very low level,” the institute said in a statement on Tuesday. “Many people just don’t realize the harm they do by burning poor quality coal or litter, including plastic bottles, used shoes or old car tires.”

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