People in the Western Balkans breathe the most polluted air in Europe, with as many as eight cities in the region ranked among the world’s most polluted 10% in 2018. In the latest report by the IQAir AirVisual, which provides an air quality monitoring app increasingly used in the region, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia are identified as the most polluted countries in Europe in 2018, followed by Kosovo*, Bulgaria, and Serbia.
According to a press release from Greenpeace, whose Southeast Asia branch helped compile the IQAir AirVisual report, ten cities in the Western Balkans and four cities in Turkey had PM2.5 levels more than three times the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
Bosnia Herzegovina had as many as five cities on a list of Europe’s most polluted, including the capital Sarajevo, with 38.8 micrograms of PM2.5 per m3, and Lukavac, Europe’s most polluted city, with as much as 55.6 micrograms of PM2.5 per m3.
Sarajevo authorities have been considering measures to tackle air pollution, as data in early December again ranked the city as the world’s most polluted.
North Macedonia had four cities on the list, including the capital Skopje, with 34.0 micrograms of PM2.5 per m3.At the end of January, Skopje procured air purifiers for all high school classrooms due to the very high levels of air pollution.
According to list, Priština, the capital of Kosovo*, had PM2.5 concentration of 30.4 micrograms per m3.
PM2.5 refers to airborne particles up to 2.5 microns in size, widely regarded as the pollutant with the most health impact of all commonly measured air pollutants. Due to their small size, they can penetrate deep into the human respiratory system and from there to the entire body, causing a wide range of short- and long-term health effects.
According to the IQAir AirVisual report, residential heating is an important factor in air pollution in Eastern European countries as well as parts of Italy and the UK. The report also noted that some countries outside the EU have modest public networks for monitoring air quality.
A recent report by the NGOs from EU, published a few weeks ago, found that 16 outdated coal power plants in the Western Balkans are a public health and economic liability for the whole of Europe.
In the IQAir AirVisual’s report, Serbia was ranked 5th in Europe by the annual mean level of PM2.5, with 23.9 micrograms per m3, compared to 40.0 in Europe’s worst-ranked North Macedonia and as little as 5.0 in Iceland, the country with the cleanest air in Europe and the world.
In a recent op-ed for Balkan Green Energy News, Serbian Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) Director Filip Radović wrote that the main polluters in urban areas in Serbia are individual heating systems, traffic, the energy sector (power plants burning lignite), and industry.
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) data, the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution in Serbia rose from 5,400 in 2015 to 6,592 in 2016.
BiH 14th most polluted in the world
In the global country rankings, sorted by estimated average PM2.5 concentration, BiH was the 14th most polluted in the world in 2018, followed by North Macedonia, in the 15th place.
On this list, which ranks countries from worst to best, Kosovo* took the 19th spot, with 30.4 micrograms of PM2.5 per m3, as Serbia ended 28th, with 23.9, ahead of Croatia, in the 30th spot, and Turkey, in the 31st.
On the world capital city list, sorted by average yearly PM2.5 concentration, Sarajevo was ranked 14th, Skopje 16th, and Priština 18th, while Serbia’s capital Belgrade took the 26th spot, with 23.9 micrograms per m3.
In the press release, Yeb Sano, executive director of Greenpeace South East Asia, urged local and national governments around the world to help tackle the effects of air pollution by providing adequate air quality monitoring and reporting infrastructure.
According to WHO, globally, 9 out of 10 people breathe polluted air, while around 7 million people in the world (including 600,000 children) die prematurely, as a result, every year.