So what is smog?

So what is smog?



Smog is formed from a combination of four main environmental factors:

  • man-made pollutants
  • fog
  • lack of wind
  • low temperature

Smog is therefore an atmospheric “cloud of pollution and dust.” A dense fog on smoke particles – which is also expressed in its name: a combination of the English words smoke and fog.

Dust and poisonous gases (mainly sulfur dioxide) have always entered the air. Responsible for this was not only human activity but also natural natural phenomena, such as volcanic eruptions. However, environmental contamination became a real concern only as a result of the development of industries based on the use of coal energy (19th century).

In the following century, increasing air pollution was influenced by galloping motorization (increased number of cars and amount of exhaust fumes) and – a great ecological bane, and one we don’t always realize – running households in a way that endangers ourselves.

Nowadays – especially during the heating season (which is in full swing in February) – the phenomenon of smog surprises no one. Smog makes our lives more difficult and worsens our health, but we are used to its presence. And so much so that the annual smog alerts do not impress us as much as they should. Many of us treat them as an inevitable evil.


Smog and the air we breathe

Smog has been a massive problem in Poland for years. During the period of highest pollution, the air is no longer clear. We feel and even see the “ominous cloud” with the naked eye. We inhale dust, lead, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons.

In many localities of our country, the concentration standards of harmful dust each winter are exceeded by several hundred percent. This results in people, and children, dying due to air pollution. And this is no longer something we should simply accept.

The problem persists despite warnings from environmentalists and pro-environmental programs launched by politicians – such as the Clean Air program, which aims to improve energy efficiency and reduce dust and pollution emissions from single-family residential buildings. Although Poles’ awareness of these issues is growing year by year, our efforts still lack economies of scale.

According to forecasts made by the European Environment Agency (EEA) a few years ago, if no systematic and effective measures to reduce emissions of harmful gases and dust are carried out, in 2030 the level of air pollution in Polish cities will be among the highest in the EU.

Causes of smog formation

According to the National Center for Balancing and Managing Emissions (KOBiZE), the main source of air pollution in Poland is households. That is so-called low emissions (the name comes from low, non-factory chimneys). The biggest problem is inadequate heating of single-family houses and tenement buildings (burning coal, wood, tires, it still happens that garbage). Equally important is the overheating of rooms, using too much heating fuel, resulting in excessive emissions of combustion products into the atmosphere.

Only by referring to the figures can we see the environmental impact of our daily choices. Households are responsible for as much as 46% of harmful PM10 emissions, which is particularly impressive compared to industry (20%) and – heavily demonized in this regard – road transport (8%). We see an even greater disparity in the sources of emissions of the carcinogen benzopyrene. Here low emissions are to blame in as much as 84%, industry in 10%, and road transport in only 1% (KOBiZE data for 2017).

It is also worth noting – and here it is not necessary to refer to figures – that the smog problem in summer practically disappears, despite the increased car traffic. Smog only appears in winter, when we all heat our homes. So – while car traffic is undoubtedly a source of pollution (nitrogen oxide emissions are a big problem) – internal combustion engines are not the main culprit responsible for smog formation.

What conclusion can be drawn from this? It is not the fumes from factory chimneys and automobile exhaust that most pollute the air we breathe. It is our improperly heated homes that do it.

Improper home heating, or what?

Speaking of improper home heating, we mainly mean:

– the use of old-type coal-fired boilers (as a reminder: the harmful products of fuel combustion are: carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, heavy metals, and PM10, PM2.5 particulate matter)

  • burning of waste, plastic, plastics – although illegal, still practiced
  • heat losses from leaking buildings – lack of thermal upgrading
  • heat losses due to overdriving – inefficient space heating

Effects of smog on the human body

Poor air quality makes us breathe harder, feel worse, and get infections more often, especially upper respiratory infections.

These are not the only effects of smog on our bodies. In the long term, contaminated air contributes to the development of:

  • cancer
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • asthma and allergies
  • coronary heart disease and heart failure
  • dangerous attacks of shortness of breath
  • hypertension
  • problems with the throat, larynx, bronchi
  • conjunctivitis
  • concentration disorders
  • problems with sleep

How to prevent environmental degradation?

So it seems that – in addition to statutory solutions (anti-smog resolutions, programs to support new standards for heating individual homes) – the key to improving the environmental situation in our country is public education and widespread use of new heating technologies. Improvements in air quality will only come from promoting good practices and showing the benefits of their implementation.


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