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19 August 2020

Helping people see the air they breathe in Poland

How can we help people see the damage air pollution does to our lungs, to create a platform for change?
HealthEuropean Union

The problem:

Krakow is one of the most polluted cities in the EU (8th in 2018), according to the WHO. Citizens formed Krakow Smog Alert in response to this problem, and successfully campaigned for a ban on solid fuel heating – burning things like wood, charcoal, peat or coal. This is one of the main sources of air pollution in the country.

Yet without a ban in smaller cities surrounding Krakow, air pollution levels remain dangerously high.

The solution:

To help raise awareness, Krakow Smog Alert borrowed an idea from India and created a large set of lungs that mimic the effects of air pollution inside the human body.

Exhibited in 6 cities for 14 days each, the lungs turned from white to grey as dust particles settled on them. The campaign encouraged people to apply for government subsidies to replace their old boilers with cleaner heating boilers.

The impact:

The campaign attracted so much attention that several cities introduced new measures to improve air quality:

  • The Mayor of Oświęcim took steps to ban coal, with opinion polls showing high public support for these measures.
  • The city of Zabierzów piloted a project to drastically reduce the time involved in securing subsidies to switch heating sources.
  • Cities from around Krakow joined the European Local Energy Assistance programme.
  • The Mayor of Warsaw declared that he would ban burning coal in the city.

The campaign has created much interest from mayors, NGOs, schools and individuals, and Purpose Climate Lab is now working with Polish Smog Alert to bring the lungs to several new places, and create further impetus to clean Poland’s air.

Wielicki Alarm Smogowy (a member of the Polish Smog Alert network) showcase what air pollution does to our lungs.