Angular: “Burning anything” due to fuel shortage, severe air pollution in Poland | Reuters

UPINI, Poland (Reuters) – In 2018, the Tukaczuk family left the Polish city of Krakow for the clean air of the countryside and moved to the village in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.

On December 8, the Tukaczuk family left the Polish city of Krakow in 2018 and moved to Oupini, a village in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, in search of clean air in the countryside. In October 2022, people watch smoke and steam rising from Beuchatow, Europe’s largest coal-fired power station. REUTERS/Kuba Stezycki

Four years later this year, after the war in Ukraine cut off the supply of natural gas from Russia to Poland, local authorities postponed a ban on the most polluting obsolete stoves. Air pollution in the village reached four times the legal limit last month.

“It’s a disappointing feeling to be abandoned by the country. For me, every breath is a warning sign,” laments 38-year-old Yulia Tukachuk.

The situation is even worse in Krakow, Poland’s second largest city.

According to Airy, a California-based organization that tracks air pollution, on the night of Nov. 20, when temperatures dropped below freezing for the first time this fall, Krakow’s PM2.5 concentration was the second highest in the world after New Delhi, India became the second highest in

Poland, Germany, Hungary and many other European countries are increasing the use of the polluting lignite to generate electricity, but experts say the biggest health hazard is burning lignite at home.

Coal is the main source of heating in the Tukachuk region, with 40% of households using old-fashioned stoves called “smokers”. The name comes from the fact that it emits toxic smoke.

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Piotr Kreczkowski, professor of environmental protection at AGH University in Krakow, estimates that up to 1,500 premature deaths will occur in Tukaczyk canton this winter as the ban on such stoves is lifted.

Brown coal contains several times as much sulfur and ash and five times as much mercury as black coal, while producing only one third of the energy. Burning it at home releases a toxic combination of sulfur and mercury that increases your risk of asthma, lung cancer, heart failure and stroke.

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Poland has long been one of the most polluted countries in Europe, and local governments have tried to crack down on the use of toxic fuels in their homes.

But after the supply of Russian gas stopped in April, the central government suspended a two-year ban on burning low-grade lignite and anthracite in homes. Restrictions on the sale of coal waste, which causes severe air pollution, have also been eased, reverting to pre-2018 situations, when coal-related regulations were tightened to combat smog.

In September, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Kaczynski, told Nowy Tark residents: “Everything should be burned except tires and the like, because unfortunately this is the reality. Simply put, there is no heating in Poland. it is necessary.”

Such policy changes are already causing breathing problems in areas with high levels of air pollution, doctors say.

Hospitalizations of children surged in November as temperatures dropped at the state hospital in Rybnik, near the border with the Czech Republic, said Katarzyna Musior, head of the pediatrics department.

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Airy’s data show that on the night of November 20, when the temperature dropped to minus 3 degrees Celsius, the average concentration of PM2.5 reached 6 times the normal level.

“As a result, the wards filled up with children, 90% of whom had smog-triggered symptoms, such as shortness of breath, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), exacerbation of asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. In some cases, children in the first few weeks of life they have difficulty breathing and RSV,” Musior said.

“Beyond the norm it has become the norm. The smog has been heavy in recent days and many children are in intensive care.”

About 80% of the coal used for domestic heating in the European Union is consumed in Poland. Shortly after becoming the first EU member state to stop buying Russian coal in April, Poland started running out of coal.

Coal prices have quadrupled and state marketing companies have started rationing. Citizens started driving to the Czech Republic during the summer to buy lignite from Czech wholesalers, hoping to get lignite for the winter.

Some households without access to coal resort to burning waste. According to Kreczkowski, the garbage contains more carcinogenic toxins and local authorities are struggling to stop burning it.

In October, a resident of northern Poland refused to be fined by local police for burning rubbish from furniture. The resident says Law and Justice leader Kaczynski said he could burn anything. The lawsuit is pending.

(Journalists Marek Strzelecki, Kuba Stezycki)

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