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News 17 Jan 14

Stagnant Smog Leaves Kosovo Capital Choking

Combination of factory pollution and high pressure blamed for dense smog that is leaving many people gasping for air.

Edona Peci
BIRN
Pristina

Pristina often gets more than its share of hazy days, with the nearby Obiliq power plant pumping out some of Europe’s most polluted gases.

But in recent weeks the air has been worse than usual in the Kosovo capital and other parts of the country.

At times, thick smog has covered the capital, reducing visibility to as little as 10 metres. The key measure of pollution has averaged more than three times the EU standard.  

The unusually stagnant air, blamed on high pressure, has meant that pollution from the power plants Kosovo A and B, and from other sources, has nowhere to go, Letafete Latifi, head of Kosovo’s Hydro Meteorological Service, explained. “There is not enough circulation of the air,” she said.

More than 50 people have been taken to the city’s public hospital, the University Clinical Center, with respiratory problems linked to the smog, recently.

Two weeks ago, Selvete Cakolli, who had a pre-existing lung condition, found herself struggling to breathe. “I could feel it every morning when I had to go to the work,” the 44-year-old said.

“I had a feeling that my lungs were constricted; I had to cover the area around my mouth and nose just so I could breathe,” she added.

Her doctor told Balkan Insight that bad air was to blame for Cakolli’s recent troubles.

In December, Pristina averaged 174.1 micrograms per cubic meter of air of PM10, which is how the presence of larger hazardous particles in the air is measures.

According to EU standards, a PM10 level of 50 is considered the highest acceptable limit, which should not be exceeded more than 35 days per year.

The reasons behind the smog are considered to be:

- The outdated highly polluting Kosovo A and B power stations are most responsible. Kosovo A is slated for replacement, controversially, with a new coal plant.

- Heating and cooking with lignite and firewood during winter

- Kosovo does not properly classify or recycle waste. Inadequate waste disposal leads to garbage being illegally dumped or burned, which leads to high levels of air pollution.  

- Cars and trucks

While the authorities have not engaged in any public awareness campaigns, to alert people to the potential risk to health, Dr Gazmend Zhuri, a pulmonologist, is urging people to stay indoors.

“One cannot remove the smog just like that. What people should do is to stay inside,” he said.

Latifi, of the Hydro Meteorological Service, said the situation should improve this week, as the weather turns. “There will be low air pressure and good conditions for rain,” she said.

Rain would also welcome in Pristina for other reasons. A wintertime drought has left the water reserves, which supply the 400,000 people in the area, dangerously close to running dry.

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