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SOER Country

Air pollution (Poland)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Air quality is a major factor affecting human health, thus ensuring good quality of air is a priority of Poland’s environmental policy. Investment in modern technologies in connection with the modernisation of industrial plants and the energy sector, as well as the development of the transport infrastructure, have ensured that the intensive development of Poland’s economy over the past two decades has not increased emissions. Monitoring of air quality in Poland shows that, like in many other European countries, the problems of ensuring proper air quality arise mainly in urbanised areas.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Despite gradual improvement of air quality in Poland, several problems remain: excessive tropospheric ozone concentrations in summer, and excessive concentrations of particulate matter in winter. In addition, in some agglomerations excessive concentrations of nitrogen dioxide are observed. Other types of air pollution, such as sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, benzene or heavy metals do not play a major role in air pollution in Poland.

Ozone is the pollutant that has the greatest capacity to be carried over long distances, which is why the ozone concentrations over the territory of Poland are largely the result of the air masses that come into our country from southern and south-western Europe. The results of ozone measurements carried out show excessive concentrations occurring in southern, south-western and central Poland.

The long-term trends for ozone concentrations at regional background stations show that in north and north-eastern Poland, the concentrations of ground-level ozone have a slight downwards trend. The concentrations of ozone in southern and south-western Poland are largely the result of infiltration and in some cases show a slight upward trend (Fig. 1).

Despite the significant decrease in emissions of particulate precursors in Poland, and actions taken to reduce the concentrations of particulate matter in the air, particularly the finest fractions, the excessive concentrations of PM10 remains the main problem facing air quality in Poland. Exceedance occurs both in terms of daily and yearly figures (Fig. 2), and is confined primarily to the centres of cities and agglomerations. The highest PM10 concentrations occur in the cold season. Then, in addition to the increased emissions of particulates from thermal energy plants, including low-emission sources, the conditions for dispersion are far worse, which, in the case of increased emissions from low-lying sources, results in episodes of high PM10 concentrations at atmospheric ground level. In this respect, 2006 was particularly unfavourable. During the cold season of 2006, several anti-cyclone systems occurred, characterised by very low temperatures accompanied by long periods of calm and inversions.

Another factor affecting the level of PM10 pollution is the fact that some Polish cities are situated in mountain or river valleys, which prevents pollutants from dispersing; also the concentration of industries, as for example in the Krakow or Górny Śląsk agglomerations, plays a role.

Particulates, which are a mixture of tiny solid and liquid particles, are capable of entering the respiratory system and causing both lung and cardiovascular problems. An analysis of the percentage of the population exposed to excessive PM10 particulates in Poland show that in 2005 around 5 % of the population were affected in terms of annual exposure limits, while 45 % were affected in terms of daily exposure limits. However, exposure forecasts show that in 2010 this share will be significantly reduced.

In spite of the inexorable increase in car numbers, the standard concentrations for nitrogen dioxide are only sporadically exceeded, and this is mainly in the areas of large agglomerations in unfavourable topographic locations or urban environments where pollutants are likely to accumulate. The agglomeration of Krakow is a case in point (Fig. 3.)

The acidification of soil and water is an important process, particularly in terms of the impact it has on ecosystems. The results of studies of the chemical mechanisms of atmospheric precipitation and the ground deposits of pollutants in Poland over the last ten years show a gradual reduction in the deposits in the ground of some pollutants. This process is particularly marked with regard to sulphate deposits (Fig. 4.). At the same time, a long-term trend of increased pH of atmospheric precipitation has been observed, the result of reduced emissions of pollutants both in Poland and over the continent as a whole.

Fig. 1: Variability of the long-term average monthly concentrations of ozone in the atmosphere near the ground at regional monitoring stations (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

Fig. 2: Average annual PM10 concentrations from measurements taken in agglomerations, 2004-2008 (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

Fig. 3: Average annual nitrogen dioxide concentrations from measurements taken in agglomerations, 2004-2008 (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

Fig. 4: Deposits of substances introduced via atmospheric precipitations in Poland over 2000-2008 compared with average annual precipitation totals (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

In the 1990s and the first years of this century, a regular fall in emissions of all main air pollutants was observed in Poland, particularly of sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide. This fall was largely associated with the restructuring and modernisation of the energy and industrial sectors, and improvements in the quality of coal. Since 2003, emissions of the majority of pollutants have been comparable or, as in the case of sulphur dioxide, emissions have fallen year by year, but not to the same degree as in the 1990s (Fig. 5).

It is worth pointing out that the systematic development of the Polish economy in terms of GDP has not resulted in an increase in atmospheric emissions. This is the result of the increasing use of environmentally friendly technologies (Fig. 6).

The effect of balancing the environmental impact of dynamic economic development by implementing modern technological and technical solutions is particularly expressed in transport. Over the past decade, approximately 6.5 million vehicles have been registered in Poland, but this has not translated into increased emissions in this sector (Fig. 7).

At the same time, increasing living standards in Poland and growing environmental awareness among the general public mean that people are more willing to use environmentally friendly methods in their households. The growing amount of environmental data and information, and its increasing accessibility, play an important role in raising environmental awareness and shaping environmentally friendly behaviour.

Fig. 5: Emissions of the main air pollutants in 1990-2007 as against the national emissions limits incorporated in the Treaty of Accession within the scope of Directive 2001/81/EC (Source: MŚ)

Fig. 6: Changes in levels of main air emissions compared with GDP in 1998-2008 (Source: GUS, MŚ)

Fig. 7: Emissions from road transport in Poland against number of vehicles and tractors 1998-2008 (Source: GUS, MŚ)


The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

By 2020, the actions in the area of atmosphere protection should have significant effects in reduced concentrations of airborne pollutants, which in turn should reduce the exposure of the population to excessive concentrations of pollutants and the incidence of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Forecasts for PM2.5 pollution show that by 2020 the population of Poland should not be exposed to concentrations in excess of the permissible level of 25 mg/m3 (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8. Forecast exposure of the Polish population to PM2.5 particulates to 2020 based on the emissions reductions scenario according to the CAFE Programme (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

Taking into account the current state of air pollution in Poland and the need to maintain the air quality and cleanliness standards established by Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe and the limits for large combustion sources, Poland is set to implement numerous undertakings to improve the air quality.

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

To protect human health and plants in Poland, a series of instruments to reduce air emissions have been developed to help achieve good air quality. The most important ones are: permits for introducing gas and particulates into the atmosphere, integrated permits, emission standards for installations and fuel quality standards. There has also been a gradual increase in the share of energy from renewable sources in overall energy production, while the energy-intensiveness of the Polish economy has been reduced.

Current investment in a new transport infrastructure (e.g. the construction of high-speed road and rail links), partly financed by the European structural and cohesion funds, should also contribute significantly to improving air quality.

Another important element in reducing emissions is the gradual increase in the number of cars and goods vehicles which meet the EURO standards.

Implementing the tasks defined in air protection programmes is also of great importance at regional and local level. Since 2008, drafting and implementing air protection programmes has been the job of local authorities at voivodeship (regional) level, which should lead to the ongoing and systematic improvement of air quality as a result of the action taken to implement regional sustainable development policies.

Sources of information

Report on air quality in Poland

Monitoring results for the chemical action of atmospheric precipitation and deposits of pollutants on the ground in Poland

Results of studies of background atmospheric pollutions at EMEP stations in Poland

Results of online air quality measurements from automatic monitoring networks in voivodeships

National emissions of air pollutants

National Development Strategy 2007-2015

Operational Programme Infrastructure and Environment

National Environmental Policy 2009-2012 and Its 2016 Outlook, adopted by the Council of Ministers in December 2008

Statistical Yearbook of the Republic of Poland 1990-2008

Statistical Yearbooks: Environmental Protection 1995-2008

Regional Databank of the Central Statistics Office

Results of forecasts of air quality


The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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