Smog, Poland

Poland breaks EU air pollution laws with illegal levels of PM10

Poland has broken European air pollution laws by continuing to exceed annual limits of particulate matter (PM10) in the air – the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on Thursday. Aside from Poland, Bulgaria is the only other country to have received a similar judgment.

ClientEarth lawyer Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan said: “It’s more bad news for Polish people. Not only do they have to live with losing the case, they also still have to breathe harmful air. The actions of the Polish authorities are far too slow in relation to the threat level.”

EU law obliges EU countries to maintain air quality standards that do not threaten people’s health. In accordance with the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive, the limit values for PM10 may not exceed an annual average of 40 µg/m3 and 50 µg/mper day. The daily standard may be exceeded up to 35 times a year.

Although the decision by the EU’s highest court concerns breaches from 2007-2013, PM10 limits are still being broken across most of Poland. According to the air quality assessment published by Poland’s General Inspectorate for Environmental Protection (GIOŚ), 35 out of 46 zones recorded breaches in 2016.

Warso-Buchanan added: “For years, the Polish authorities have been aware of the scale of the problem and the actions required for them to reduce air pollution and thus protect peoples’ health.

“Their actions can be described in three words: ineffective, inadequate and negligent as Air Quality Plans are too vague, quality requirements for solid fuels are still missing and the standards for stoves only apply to new devices.

“The main cause of air pollution in Poland is burning coal. The question is: is coal more important than people’s health? We hope that the government will put the interests of all Poles over the interest of the coal industry.”

Warsaw may now face the threat of hefty fines if Poland continues to breach air pollution limits. However, penalties can only be imposed after the next court process.

Based on the guidelines of the European Commission, ClientEarth estimates that financial penalties may take the form of a lump sum or a periodic penalty. In the case of Poland, the penalty may range between EUR 5 066 to EUR 303 960 for each day of the infringement and a lump sum penalty of EUR 4 300 000 to EUR 50 034 200 (assuming that the first and second sentences expire after four years and the infringement continues).
Warso-Buchanan concluded: “Fines are a definitive measure. Instead, we hope that the Polish government will decide to adopt the regulations necessary to improve air quality as soon as possible.”

In 2017, a similar judgment for breaches of PM10 was given in Bulgaria. There, as in Poland, coal is the main source of fuel for the energy sector and household heating.

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Jacek Halicki