Let’s Talk About Warsaw’s Smog (And The EPA)

Three things are going on right now that led me to write this post.

  1.  A Senate vote on Trump’s nominee, Scott Pruitt, for Secretary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will take place any day now.
  2.  Recently, a Florida Congressman proposed H.R. 861, “A Bill to Terminate the United States Environmental Protection Agency.” (I just hope he’s building a big boat!)
  3.  And then there’s this: Warsaw’s air quality today was officially worse than Delhi’s. Yay, us?


Poland is known as the “China of Europe,” with 33 of 55 most polluted cities on the continent. Warsaw is one of those cities. Today, I even saw several people wearing Vogmasks—and they weren’t Chinese!

Central Warsaw this morning.
Central Warsaw this morning.

There are several reasons for the terrible air quality, including diesel trucking, but the primary factor is coal. Poland is a major producer of coal, as well as a major consumer. Warsaw’s power plants are coal-burning. People burn low-quality soft coal (and even trash) in their homes for heat—it gets cold here, and stays cold for a long time.

Driving in from the suburbs, a view of one of the coal-fired power plants. Polarization of the car windshield removes the visible haze.
Driving in from the suburbs, a view of one of the coal-fired power plants. (Polarization of the car windshield removes most of the visible haze.)

Despite the haze hanging over the city and the smell of coal in the air, there was no official smog alert here today. There hasn’t been an alert for some time. The Polish government does not use the same standard as the rest of the European Union (or the U.S.) for air quality. If you want to know more visit the Warszawski Alarm Smogowy Facebook page and use Google Translate to read the posts and articles. Warsaw citizens are not unaware of this problem.

If you are bidding on Warsaw or Krakow, the winter smog is something you should know about—I certainly wish I had known how very bad it would be, because this level of pollution has real health consequences and negatively affects my daily life in several ways. But, my personal situation is not the real point of this post.

One of the five air filters in my house. After three weeks in January.
One of the *five* air filters in my house. After three weeks in January. So yeah, this is what we are breathing here–it’s no doubt worse outdoors. 

The Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1970 in order to provide nationwide consistency in environmental regulation. It’s worth noting that it was established by a Richard Nixon, a Republican. (You know, back when even criminal Republicans had some sense.) And it has worked. Rivers no longer catch fire. Highways are no longer linear trash dumps. New York City no longer looks like, well, Warsaw today.

Poland is an object lesson in what happens when an industry calls the shots. It has happened in the U.S., and it can happen again. In fact, this administration seems determined to make it happen. After all, Trump campaigned promising to “bring back coal.” And Scott Pruitt has spent most of his career suing to overturn EPA regulations.  It’s pretty clear his mandate if confirmed by the Senate will be to abolish the EPA so that industry will not have to be bothered by pesky environmental concerns in the pursuit of cash.

I’ve seen the future, and it is right here, right now, in Warsaw. Hoping and praying that we do not go down that road again.

Would be a gorgeous day except...
Would be a lovely winter day except…

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