Air pollution soars in Central and Eastern Europe

Air pollution levels have reached record levels in several Central and Eastern European countries during this bitterly cold winter. Smog alerts have been issued several times in Budapest, Warsaw, Sofia and other European cities in recent weeks. Poverty is inducing people to use anything they can get their hands on for heating, journalists explain, and criticise the politicians for failing to take effective action.

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Magyar Narancs (HU) /

Household refuse a popular heating fuel

Air pollution in Hungary is mainly the result of widespread poverty, the weekly Magyar Narancs points out:

“In the north of the country, which is particularly poor, the furnaces burn anything and everything: clothes, plastic bottles, wet wood, varnished flooring, sawdust, plants and even dead hares. The poorest families regularly heat with plastic bottles stuffed with rags. ... According to estimates around 30 percent of people in northern Hungary use household refuse to heat their homes. In some communities the rubbish collection workers have practically nothing to do. ... The situation is dramatic in many places: in Járdánháza, for example, a town with a population of 2,000 situated in a valley in northern Hungary, the concentration of particulate matter is four times as high as in Beijing - a city that's constantly in the news because of its massive pollution problem.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Poland far too lax about smog problem

Poland's failure to take effective measures to combat the problem angers Rzeczpospolita:

“Our government's attempts to combat the smog problem in Poland always come across as purely cosmetic. … Our pollution regulations would have long since set alarm bells ringing in other EU member states. … In the end, according to our laws levels that have long since been classified as unhealthy are harmless. So many people don't see the smog as a problem and therefore do nothing about it. Yes, a few decision-makers have introduced countermeasures every now and then, but beyond a few statements they lead to nothing tangible. … In particular the burning of low-quality coal needs to be banned.”

Kapital (BG) /

Bulgaria needs national measures

Levels of toxic fine dust in Sofia have climbed to nine times the permissible limit on several days this winter. But as a lone warrior Mayor Yordanka Fandakova can't do much to fight the smog, the weekly paper Kapital concludes:

“These initial proposals sound like a collection of tried and tested methods from other countries: free public transport on days when air pollution exceeds certain levels, stricter tests for motor vehicles, and the establishment of an early warning system. These measures go in the right direction but they won't be enough. The local authorities can't solve the problems on their own. It is not Fandakova but the transport ministry and the traffic police who determine what the criteria are for motor vehicle tests. And also when it comes to reducing the use of firewood and coal for heating, which is the main cause of air pollution, the mayor has to rely on the help of state institutions.”