What cities do to improve air quality?

How do cities fight smog? What are they doing to improve air quality?

Smog is a phenomenon characteristic of large cities and agglomerations. The high concentration of furnace-fired houses, industrial plants, power plants and transport combined with the lack of air movement and humidity causes accumulation of health-threatening pollutants. The problem is complex and the fight against it should be carried out on many levels and in a comprehensive manner.

Information and education

The problem of smog has been around for a long time but has been underestimated for a long time. Increasing awareness and access to information on air quality allowed highlighting the problem, both for society and authorities.

Almost all of us can have an impact on reducing the phenomenon of smog - by choosing how to heat the house, or choosing how to go to work - by car, public transport or bicycle. Every person counts in the fight against air pollution. Developing awareness and changing the attitude of residents is the basis for starting changes. Various types of information campaigns among both children and adults are key in educating about the smog problem, its dangers and possible solutions.

In Rybnik, one of the most polluted cities in Poland, the "Smog Exit" campaign was carried out. During the campaign, authorities launched  informational boards with air quality index all over the city. Also, 40,000 flyers were distributed. All to raise awareness of the issue, its harmfulness and ways to fight it. In London, however, at the end of 2016, an information system was launched, showing contaminated air warnings at subway and bus stops.

Educating individuals leads to an increase in the awareness of society and those in power. It is necessary to start the changes at the governmental level. Currently, actions are being taken to correct pollution standards. The standards for PM10 dust adopted in Poland are relatively high compared to European ones. The alarm level is 300 ug / m3 and the information level is 200 ug / m3. This disturbs the perception of the problem and negatively affects health.

The problem of low emissions

In winter, the phenomenon of smog intensifies due to pollution generated in home furnaces. The heating of houses and tenements generates about 51% of pollution during the heating season. This is due to the use of low-quality fuel, low-efficiency furnaces and burning trash.

One of the basic ways to combat low emissions is to reduce the number of low-efficiency furnaces. Many cities in Poland offer co-financing for their replacement, most often in the form of subsidies. Unfortunately, not all areas offer such an opportunity or have different terms and levels of financial support. In some areas, it is also possible to receive a subsidy for thermo-modernization of buildings that allows to reduce heat losses, and thus - to use less fuel.

The phenomenon of air poisoning is exacerbated by the use of poor-quality fuel, and in extreme cases burning garbage. Although this behavior is unacceptable, many people are notoriously violating the bans by throwing municipal waste into furnaces. Adopted by the government in 2015, the so-called the anti-smog resolution allowed the provincial governments to precisely determine the type and acceptable quality of solid fuels.

To fight this practice, cities are introducing a number of solutions to enforce legislation. Thanks to the anti-smog resolution, from November 1, 2018, the police received permission to control what owners burn. Furthermore, as officers are not able to control all homes, residents are encouraged to report air poisoning by burning the wrong fuel.

To help control requests, the authorities began arming themselves with the latest technological advances. Krakow was the first city in Poland to start using remotely controlled, flying drones equipped with special sensors to control chimneys. After rising above the building, installed devices allow to examine the composition of the exhaust gas and detect what residents burn. Following the example of Krakow, more and more cities, i.e. Warsaw, Katowice and Elbląg are investing in such a solution.

A project has been developed at the government level that can help detect cinders. It assumes development of a central system for recording heating furnaces, reminding the well-known to car owners "CEPIK". It would create a database of domestic heating systems. The database would be supplemented by chimney sweeps and entities testing the efficiency of ventilation systems in buildings. Nine municipalities joined the pilot program, but the government plans to extend the campaign to all of Poland by the end of 2020.


Road transport is the second largest source of pollution. Poland have high number of passenger cars per 1000 inhabitants, including older vehicles and those in poor-technical condition. Combined with the developed road transport of goods this affect the quality of air in cities. The fight against cutting out DPF filters or more accurate exhaust gas control at diagnostic stations is just the tip of the iceberg ...

Road transport generates not only particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10 but also nitrogen oxides and carbon oxides. In addition, particles resulting from abrasion of brake pads and tires settle on the streets, and then are raised again in the air by passing vehicles.

Street cleaning is the most effective weapon against this problem. Intensive watering of roads by special vehicles allows you to get rid of most of the dirt on the road and supplement the operation of "sweepers".

The disadvantage of this solution is that it can be used only at positive temperatures. In winter, at minus temperatures, this solution would create a dangerous layer of ice on the streets and pose a threat to drivers. Therefore, this is not an ideal solution and should be supported by other activities.

Another way is to limit car traffic in city centers. It can have various forms, ranging from encouraging the use of public transport or changing to a bicycle or scooter.

In some companies and institutions, employees who commute to work by bicycle can count on financial bonuses. In Krakow, in a situation of elevated levels of pollution, it is possible to move by trams and buses for car drivers for free.

Long-term encouragement of drivers to give up cars requires a change in infrastructure, increasing the frequency of connections and accelerating travel times to increase comfort. Similarly, in the case of bicycles, infrastructure should be introduced in the form of new bicycle paths, road surfaces and safety should be improved.

The city's second strategy is to restrict entry to the center for vehicles that do not meet certain standards, or to impose charges. Introduced low emission zones, such as in Berlin, allow entry only for cars with specific low emissions. In Paris, the city center was closed on working days for cars older than 20 years old and this age limit is to be moved in the following years. In Beijing, the number of cars has been regulated for years by limiting the registration of new cars.

Green zones

Green areas created by cities have an important role in reducing air pollution. They not only improve the appearance of the city, but also have a positive impact on the ecosystem, improve the well-being of residents and perform important functions in nature.

Plant leaves form a huge surface that gathers pollution. Carbon monoxide, nitrogen, ozone or benzene oxides absorbed by stomata are degraded or retained in the leaves and fall to the ground with them in autumn. On the other hand, dusts that settle on the surface of the plants are washed with rain into the soil, where they undergo microbial degradation.

Large clusters of mature trees are able to reduce the temperature by up to 11 degrees compared to areas without greenery. In conjunction with appropriate planning of buildings and terrain, it allows to properly ventilate and clean the air of urban spaces.