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Doctors and health groups have issued an urgent call to improve air quality in Tuzla and Lukavac (Bosnia and Herzegovina), joining the global Unmask My City campaign for clean air, and inviting doctors region wide to join. Bosnia and Herzegovina has the second highest mortality rate from air pollution worldwide. Even though Bosnia and Herzegovina laws set air quality standards for certain pollutants in the air, these laws are poorly applied, leaving the citizens to breathe unhealthy air.

Maida Mulić, director of Public Health Institute in Tuzla and one of the initiators of Unmask my City in Tuzla and Lukavac, expressed the problems the region has:

In Tuzla, as in many places in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the air that we breathe harms our health. This poor air quality causes heart and lung disease and brings immense suffering, especially for those who are already ill. We hope that other doctors, nurses, and health professionals in our country become active for cleaner air.

The concern of the health professionals echo the findings of the World Health Organization (WHO), which have shown that Bosnia and Herzegovina has the second highest mortality rate (per 100.000 population) from air pollution in the world, after North Korea. In 2012 alone, more than 3,500 people in Bosnia and Herzegovina died prematurely from the harmful effects of ambient air pollution on their health. According to WHO/OECD, the country is losing 21.5% of its GDP because of air pollution.

Emir Durić, a local doctor, said:

Air pollution is an invisible killer in Tuzla. As doctors working for the health of the population, we need to address and work towards clean air in our community. I am especially worried about the health of our youngest ones, the children.

Exposure to polluted air causes heart and lung disease, cancer, and a range of other health impacts; it has now also been established as a risk factor for obesity and diabetes. People living in cities, those already suffering from disease (asthma, COPD, heart conditions, etc), children, unborn babies and pregnant women, and those economically deprived are particularly at risk.

One of the major threats to the health of citizens in the Tuzla area comes from the high concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) which originate from old coal-fired industrial plants and the Tuzla Thermal Power Plant which burns over 3.3 million tons of coal per year. The plant is one of the ten largest polluters in Europe, causing health costs of 71 to 205 million EUR annually for inhabitants of the Western Balkans and between EUR 196 to 566 million for the inhabitants of the European Region. PM2.5 is the pollutant with the highest concern for health protection – scientific studies show that fine particulate matter in the air that we breathe causes premature death, heart and lung disease, as well as stroke, and a range of other health impacts.

Health groups have been voicing their concern over a planned Chinese investment to enlarge this coal plant, which would lead to further health impacts.

Local doctors, together with the Unmask My City campaign are calling for action to:

  • establish limit values for PM10 and PM2.5 in accordance with recommendations of the World Health Organization
  • establish a fully functioning monitoring system, with continuous monitoring of PM10 and PM2.5 at all measuring stations in Bosnia and Herzegovina throughout the whole year with publicly available data
  • transition towards the use of clean and renewable energy and promotion of energy savings
  • reduce air pollution from all contributing sectors through e.g. better technical equipment and filters in coal power plants and industrial installations; through renewable energy systems for household heating and phasing out coal use; through promoting walking and cycling in urban transport and strict emissions standards for vehicles; and firmly implementing the “polluter pays” principle with sanctions for those not sticking to the rules

Unmask My City is global initiative led by health professionals in 12 cities around the world that currently face major air pollution challenges. Doctors, nurses, public health practitioners and allied healthcare professionals dedicated to improving the health of their patients are calling for practical solutions and tangible city level policy changes to cut pollution levels to meet WHO guidelines and drive a clear, downward global trend in air pollution by 2030.

This global initiative is coordinated by the Global Climate and Health Alliance together with the Health and Environment Alliance, Health Care Without Harm, the US Climate and Health Alliance, and the UK Health Alliance for Climate Change.

HEAL is leading the Unmask my city campaign in Europe.

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