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NEWS 14 Feb 17

Balkan Cities Top European Air Pollution Chart

World Health Organisation data analysed by the Guardian newspaper showed that six of the ten most polluted cities in Europe excluding Turkey are in the Balkans - with a Macedonian town in the top spot.

Eleanor Rose
A protester at a demonstration against pollution in Skopje. Photo: Anadolu/archive.

Six cities in the Balkans have made it into the top ten most polluted cities in Europe in data published by the Guardian newspaper.

The newspaper analysed data on ultra-fine pollution particles, called PM2.5, from the World Health Organisation, WHO, finding that the town of Tetova in north-western Macedonia was the most polluted city in Europe excluding Turkey.

It has an annual mean score of 81 micrograms of PM2.5 particles per cubic metre. 

The town of Tuzla in Bosnia and Herzegovina placed second, with a score of 65, while the capital of Macedonia, Skopje, was third on the list at 45 micrograms per cubic metre.

Pljevlja in Montenegro took seventh place with a measure of 42, and another Macedonian city – the town of Bitola – placed ninth, with 40. 

Tackling air pollution in Macedonia, which claimed three of the top ten spots on the list, has proved an intractable problem while political problems have prevented effective action. 

The winter months see the worst air quality, with people sometimes turning out to protest about the unhealthy pollution.

A week ago, the Democratic Renewal of Macedonia, DOM party – the country’s green political force – accused authorities of not doing enough to curb dangerous pollution in Skopje and other major towns.

A free bus transport provided in Skopje to cut down on car traffic was doing little to tackle the overall problem, it said.

"Bearing in mind that the air pollution is affecting all larger Macedonian towns, DOM insists that the government should declare a state of emergency," the party said. 

It demanded measures such as a no-vehicle zone, lower electricity prices to encourage the use of cleaner energy to heat homes, and banning vehicles that do not meet the Euro 4 standard.

However, Skopje mayor Koce Trajanovski protested that he could not act without parliamentary approval, which is not possible while the country is still gripped by an ongoing political crisis.

"We can't do this alone. For that we need a functional parliament that would vote for such a law," Trajanovski said.

Macedonia has had no government since early elections on December 11 as talks on forming an administration continue.

Meanwhile, in Bosnia, whose industrial town Tuzla came second on the list, political apathy has hampered chances of dealing with the issue. 

During October’s local elections, the topic of air pollution was rarely mentioned; instead, national-level issues related to ethnic relations were the main topics raised during the campaign.

Air pollution in Bosnia is thought to be caused by a combination of factors including the burning of dirty fuels such as coal in the home, and exhaust fumes from vehicles that do not meet modern European standards.

NGO Eco Akcija recently released an app for smartphones that shows current data from four measuring stations in the capital Sarajevo, where PM2.5 is not measured but the larger PM10 particles are.

PM10 scores in the Bosnian capital reached almost 500 in late December, when pollution could be easily seen and smelled in the streets. 

According to European air quality standards, this is 10 times higher than the highest acceptable level of 50 index points and represents a danger to health.

Due to their small size, the small breathable specks can penetrate the lungs and are known to cause cancers and other diseases.


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