Air pollution is a huge problem for cities and poses a risk to our health. Gen Z representatives from Poland, Lithuania and Romania revealed how they perceive life in polluted cities.
Five cities in the Małopolska region ranked among the most polluted in terms of annual average levels of carcinogenic benzo(a)pyrene in the air, according to the Polish Smog Alarm (Polish: Polski Alarm Smogowy, PAS) report for 2022. At the very top of it, however, you can find Nowa Ruda from the Lower Silesia region (Polish: Dolny Śląsk) leading in such categories as the yearly number of smog days (95), PM10 concentration (38 μg/cubic metre) and benzo(a)pyrene concentration (9 ng/m3, or 900% of the norm).
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Nowy Targ, Sucha Beskidzka, Nowy Sącz, Szczawnica, and Wadowice - these are the cities in Małopolska, where the average annual level of benzo(a)pyrene is one of the highest and reached 6 or 7 ng/m cubic metres, i.e. 600, 700% of the norm.
Gen Z on living in polluted cities
However, we should not forget about the largest Polish cities such as Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw and Poznan, where hundreds of thousands of people struggle with air pollution on a daily basis. I myself come from a small town near Ostrołęka and I have to admit that after moving to the capital I immediately felt the difference in air quality.
And what thoughts do Zoomers from other Polish cities have about polluted air?
"As a resident of Poznan, where the air is really polluted, I can say that it is very inconvenient. There are regular days when I get alerts telling me not to spend the day outdoors, not to open the windows and to consider avoiding going outside at all if possible," Natalia laments.
"This is often accompanied by an unpleasant smell outside, headaches and even problems taking a deep breath. A person would have to walk around wearing a mask to be able to breathe without feeling they are risking health," claims the 28-year-old.
Things are no better in Wroclaw, according to 28-year-old Kuba. "I have already got used to breathing in polluted air. So much so that I don't pay attention to it. I treat it as a natural state of affairs that when winter comes and smog covers the city, the coughing season begins," he explains.
A Lithuanian felt the difference after moving to the city
According to DELFI, the main Lithuanian news portal, as many as 98% of all Europeans live in areas where particulate pollution levels are very dangerous and exceed the limit set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Lithuania is no exception. Although the country's air quality can be said to be improving, the risk of developing various health problems due to air pollution remains.
Agne (name changed at the girl's request) has lived in the Lithuanian capital for many years. She likes living in a big city, but life in Vilnius is a bit different from her hometown, and one of the main reasons is the air quality and its pollution.
"I was born in a smaller city and moved to Vilnius right after finishing school. Living in my hometown, I never thought about air pollution, but when I came to Vilnius, I quickly realised that it is a really big and important issue that affects my well-being," Agne told DELFI.
According to Agne, what prompted her to change her attitude towards air pollution was the unpleasant feelings she started to experience during her first days in Vilnius.
"It may sound funny, but I remember very well that immediately after arriving in Vilnius, me and my friend were surprised by the strange sensations we felt outside. It is difficult to explain them, but they were really unpleasant. I felt my lungs burning with every breath, and sometime later headaches also appeared. We lived in the centre of Vilnius, where the air pollution was really high, I think, because of all the cars," the young woman claims.
Agne believes that the initial unpleasant feelings were so strong because of the differences in air quality in her home town and the capital. Over time, she had to get used to the worse conditions in the city. She admitted, however, that the negative experiences prompted her to change certain things in her life.
"Although I have a driving licence and a car, I try to move around the city by public transport or, if possible, on foot. I believe this is now the best I can do for a safer, cleaner and more effortless way of life. Unfortunately, not all my peers think the same," she said.
How does Romania's Generation Z view life in polluted cities?
Bucharest, Romania's capital, is a polluted city where people don't recycle enough and don't use public transport as often as they could, but it offers many job opportunities and activities, reports the Romanian website PRO TV.
According to the Romanian Centre for European Policy, Bucharest is the third most congested city in the EU. People get around the city mainly by car due to poor public transport infrastructure. Meanwhile, Gen Z representatives revealed what it is like to live in Romania's largest city, which is also one of the most polluted European capitals according to statistics.
"Usually, a polluted city is a developed city where I have many opportunities to work or play. But at the same time, pollution affects our daily lives. And to be honest, it's not right," says Ruxi.
"In Bucharest, you can really feel the pollution, especially in the centre of the capital where I study and work. Indeed, it is better on the outskirts, but I don't go there very often," claims Luiza.
"As for Bucharest, it is a very polluted city. Indeed, regulations are being put in place to deal with this, but there is still a long way to go," believes Marco.
The young Romanians were also asked if there are any changes or initiatives they would like to introduce to fight pollution in Bucharest.
"I think all the initiatives have already been taken... The Euro 5 standard for cars has already been implemented, factories have already been demolished or are now all outside Bucharest, but we need time", Marco adds.
"To be honest, I think about public transport. It should be used much more often by all the people who drive, but unfortunately, we don't have enough buses, trams or anything like that," Ruxi points out.
"We should recycle waste. I am doing it. Let's stop littering, let's stop driving our cars to work," suggests Louisa. "We need more places to recycle. And better transport. Public transport could be improved to reduce traffic congestion, as cars pollute a lot," adds Duty.