Why this story matters:
For the past three years, the hottest winter accessory in Poland has been an anti-smog mask. Asthma, lung diseases and cancers caused by air pollution have contributed to 48,000 premature deaths per year.
Until now, there seemed to be little hope for change. Jan Szyszko, until recently the minister for the environment, did not believe in global warming or smog, phenomena he considered made up by the opposition media.
Without any regulations in place, distributors were free to sell coal that was low-quality or unsuitable for domestic use.
This has been attributed to the influence of the coal mining lobby -- an extremely powerful group in Poland.
Now, however, Szyszko has been replaced and new officials have brought a change of attitude. The government has finally adopted much-needed regulations and, unless they sabotage this step with excessively lax provisions, Poland will gain a powerful weapon in its battle against smog.
Details from the story:
- Although the air quality in the urban areas of Poland is poor all year-round (we are a coal mining country, after all), winters have been particularly bad.
- On February 12, 2018, the quality of air in Wrocław in southern Poland was the worst in the world, followed by Lahore in Pakistan and Kolkata in India.
- Part of the problem is that, when temperatures drop, people try to keep themselves warm at all costs, burning not only low-quality coal but also trash and other materials unsuitable for heating.
- However, the main issue is that an estimated 3,5 milion Poles heat their houses with coal. Annually they buy 10 million tons of coal, which creates a 70% increase in air pollution.
- The European Court of Justice has recently ruled that Poland is violating EU regulations on air quality and if it does not eliminate smog, it will face fines of up to several billion euros.
- Many regions have already implemented anti-smog regulations, which enforce penalties for burning low-quality coal, but without nationwide laws these measures are uneffective.
- Last Tuesday, March 6, the government finally adapted a bill that addresses these issues in a practical way, first, by banning the sale of low-quality coal, second, by requesting that coal distributors have certificates confirming the quality of their product. Finally, the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection will be obligated to monitor coal storage facilities.
- Distributors who fail to provide accurate information in their certificates will face fines up to 500,000 zloty (120,000 euros). Selling low-quality coal will be penalized with up to 3 years in prison.
- As a result of the new law, the prices of heating with coal will inevitably rise -- on average, from 2,300 zloty (500 euros) to 4,000 zloty (750 euros) a year.