Kraków – Dying to Breathe

There is currently a lot of discussion in the Krakow area about the levels of smog and pollution, actually it affects Malopolska and much of the rest of Poland as well.  It tends to happen most winters, but it’s definitely getting worse each year.

Grzegorz Bednarczyk/Flickr Grzegorz Bednarczyk/Flickr

Many Poles are used to burning wood & coal to stay warm in the winter months, however due to low incomes and high fuel prices, many turn to burning cheap coal, or even trash to make it through the colder times.  This produces smoke which is full of carcinogens and small pollution particles which are 6-8 times the recommended maximum.

Krakow is currently ranked by the EU as having the 3rd dirtiest air in Europe, beaten only by a couple of cities in Bulgaria (Pernik & Plovdiv).

The government is taking action, slowly, and there are incentives in place to replace coal boilers with more economical options.  However, when I changed my coal boiler last year to a modern gas boiler, it cost just over 10,000zl (2500USD/2000GBP).  This was due to needing not only a new boiler, but an entire heating system.  In many old buildings, the original radiators and pipes may not be upto the standard needed to use a modern gas boiler as the pressures involved are much higher.  We found this out when one of our old radiators exploded! Since Krakow is full of old buildings, the owners may face similar problems and the grants for boilers may not cover these extra expenses.

Another issue that I personally believe causes more pollution is the number of vehicles on Krakow’s roads.  There are constant traffic jams on many of the main roads, people drive because it’s a status symbol to own a car, plus there are no regular checks on vehicle conditions or the levels of emissions they produce, so there are old bangers coughing out massive amounts of fumes everywhere.  Maybe a decent Park & Ride system is needed? Maybe even congestion charging, similar to London?

Krakow has a really good public transport system, it’s cheap and regular.  I make a 40 minute train journey into the city each day and it costs me 5zl (1.50USD/1GBP), whereas it would cost me around 30-40zl to drive, and take almost twice as long.  So why do people still drive into Krakow and contribute to the smog which they love to complain about? Selfishness, idiocy, some sense that driving makes them better than everyone else? It’s probably a mix of the above, and a little bit of convenience.  Although, it’s probably not that convenient when you try to find a parking space in Krakow.

Sure, you may not look as fancy in a tram as you do in your Mercedes which is leased by your fictional tax evasion company, but you’re not helping the problem which affects everyone in the city.  But I doubt that these people care, because they only do what they want and screw everyone else.  This is an attitude that you will see in many situations in Polish life, if you spend enough time here.

I quit smoking in May 2016 because I was feeling tired and sick all the time and I’m getting older and need to take care of myself.

But according to activist group Krakowski Alarm Smogowy if I’m breathing the air in Krakow, I’m effectively smoking 2500 cigarettes each year.  In the past few days, I’ve been feeling it too.  I’m more out of breath, tired and have a nasty taste in the back of my throat.  You feel dirty and like you need a shower, your clothes stink.  Despite my love for Poland and Krakow, I’d find it very hard to recommend visiting in winter.  Try a mountain city, like Zakopane instead, or be prepared to dress appropriately…

A look at the future of Krakow's tourists A look at the future of Krakow’s tourists

I hope this post doesn’t deter people from visiting Poland in general, as it is a fascinating country with a rich and diverse history.  It has some of the prettiest cities that I’ve ever seen.  It’s just nicer when you don’t have to chew the air.

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