WARSAW Pollution does not shorten people's lives, a senior Polish government minister said on Friday, downplaying the growing issue of air quality in a country that has been nicknamed the China of Europe.
Poland has the dirtiest air on the continent, activists say, due in part to extensive coal and garbage-burning by households. Climate activists say pollution leads to more than 40,000 premature deaths in Poland a year.
Cities such as Warsaw, Katowice and Krakow have been blighted by smog this winter, often making the top 10 list of most polluted in the world, overtaking Beijing or New Delhi.
The pro-coal government has been slow to address the issue, with cities trying to deal with the problem individually by closing schools, offering free public transport and asking people to stay inside.
"Let's not give in to demagogy, pollution is sometimes higher due to climate issues, but this is definitely not the reason why someone will live shorter," Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski told a transport conference.
In January, Poland's health minister, Konstanty Radziwill, said that complaints about smog are unconvincing in a country where many smoke.
The World Health Organisation says more than 7 million premature deaths occur every year due to air pollution, with 3 million of them due to outdoor air quality.
A smog alarm is raised in Poland when levels of dangerous dust particles hit a concentration of 300 micrograms per cubic metre on average per day. In France, a concentration of 80 micrograms triggers an alert.
The government took steps to address the issue this winter, following pressure by activists and with public awareness growing, but environmentalists say bolder measures are needed.
The government announced in January plans to monitor the quality of solid fuel and to impose standards on household burners..
Tchorzewski reiterated on Friday that Poland also aims to have one million electric cars and more than half of municipal buses powered by electricity by 2025.
He also promised cheaper electricity for charging them, saying that between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. power would cost 30 percent of its regular price.
The country's parliament is yet to approve any of the proposed measures.
He said, however, that there was no reason why coal dust, which is bad-quality crushed coal, used by some to heat buildings, should disappear from the market.
Environmental groups sent a complaint to the European Commision last Friday about the levels of air pollution in Poland.
(Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Toby Davis)