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Blog: Air pollution in Balkans is spiking again, harming people’s health

HEAL’s Health and Energy Officer Vlatka Matkovic Puljic was recently cited in a UK daily (over 200 million monthly browsers), highlighting how air quality in the Balkans at the end of last year was critical. The situation was mirrored across the Western Balkans with the main source of air pollution coming from coal burning and electricity generation in coal plants.

Air quality in the Balkans in December of last year was critical. People have been posting pictures of visible air pollution and demanding actions from responsible authorities, governments and fellow citizens.

This should not come as a surprise – after all, people are breathing in air that is harmful to their health. For example, concentrations of PM10, one of the most harmful air pollutants, have been recorded in measurements above the national and EU limits and well above WHO guidelines.

The quality of air has been alarmingly unhealthy in most countries of the Western Balkans, with peaks of PM2.5 reaching hazardous levels some days in a row in early December; above 300 µg/m3 of PM2.5. Acceptable levels of PM2.5 are 0-12 µg/m3 (good air quality) and 13-35 µg/m3 (moderately good air quality; for 24-hour average).

These situations can be found across the Western Balkans. Bosnia and Herzegovina is struggling with air pollution, as well as Serbian and Macedonian cities. For example, in those villages heavily affected by coal burning, such as Obrenovac in Serbia, PM levels reached sky-high levels of 645 µg/m3; Pljevlja in Montenegro having reads of 562 µg/m3.

One of the main source of air pollution in Western Balkan countries is the burning of coal and electricity generation in coal power plants. The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) newest report calculated that coal plants in five Western Balkan countries create up to 8.5 EUR billion per year in health costs and 7,181 premature deaths per year in Europe.

Air quality in the Western Balkan countries is among the worst in Europe. According to figures from the WHO, the South East European region is losing the equivalent of 19 percent of its GDP to costs associated with premature deaths from air pollution. These percentages are much lower in Western Europe .

Air pollution all across the Balkans needs an urgent action for the sake of protecting public health” said Vlatka Matkovic Puljic, Health and Energy Officer at Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). “The medical community and citizens are concerned about the effects of such a low air quality on the health of people. We urge policy makers to move from declaration to action in addressing the problem of air pollution.

"If the EU wants to improve air quality it has to tackle the Balkans. It is difficult to have clean air if another (country) is polluting you," she continues. HEAL showed in a research study last year that around 60 percent of emissions in the Western Balkans reach EU member states.

Want to find out more?

- HEAL’s Unpaid Health Bill - How coal power plants in the Western Balkans make us sick (Available in English and Serbian)

- Vlatka Matkovic Puljic, HEAL’s health and energy officer for the Balkan region, has recently been quoted in The Mail Online.

Last updated on 22 February 2017

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »


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