Toxic Poland

Over the Limit

Over the Limit

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), the health costs of air pollution in Europe ranged from €329 billion to over €1 trillion during the period 2008-2012. The costs in Poland amounted to €45-135 billion. Only Germany sustained greater losses, but its economy is seven times larger than Poland. EEA experts examined over 14,000 industrial plants operating in the EU, Switzerland and Norway. They calculated the monetary value of emissions of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants, thus measuring the health costs we incur as a result of breathing in polluted air, eating food from contaminated crops or farms, and living in an increasingly warmer climate. Industrial pollutants monitored by the EEA included nitric oxide, ammonia, sulphur dioxide, heavy metals and organic compounds. Particles 2.5-10 microns in diameter, known as particulate matter, are the most widespread and noxious pollutants and were also monitored by the EEA. They penetrate the respiratory and circulatory system, triggering breathing problems and diseases. In turn nitric oxide, in addition to its pernicious effects on the respiratory system, causes the formation of secondary solid particles and ozone in the air and also produces acidic water and soil. Sulphur dioxide forms when fuels containing sulphur, mainly coal, are burnt. When it reacts with water in the air it produces acid rain and its high concentration in the air leads to inflammatory conditions of the respiratory system. Emissions of heavy metals, which include arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and nickel, accumulate in the body and are particularly toxic for the nervous system. Organic compounds like benzene, dioxins and furan are carcinogenic. The EEA identified the power plants in Bełchatów, Turów, Kozienice, Rybnik and Pątnów and the Orlen refinery in Płock to be among the most deleterious. Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia and Romania fare worst in terms of the ratio of industrial pollution health costs to GDP. As follows from the EEA data, Polish and Bulgarian cities rank among the most polluted in the European Union. Smog over Kraków and its surroundings can be seen with the naked eye and European air pollution limits, which are less strict than those of the World Health Organization, are regularly exceeded in that city.

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