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Most polluted cities in Europe 2020/2021

Even though various actions are being taken by the European countries, air quality is still far from good. Which cities are the most polluted, and what are the reasons? Check our ranking.

The air pollution problem is complex, caused by many factors. Heavy traffic, industrial emissions, coal-burning – these are the main culprits. It is no wonder why so many countries around the world, regardless of their stage of development, struggle with worsening air quality. In fact, to a certain extent, their development has been a direct cause of their air pollution.

In Europe, particularly after the Paris Agreement came into force, the approach to air quality has been evolving, with energy transformations becoming a new priority. Goals such as public transportation development, switching to green energy, or reducing emissions of toxic gases and particulate matter serve as common ground for actions initiated by European countries.

Rankings of the most polluted places in Europe

However, there is still a lot that needs to be done. There are cities that notoriously climb the rankings of the most polluted places in the world. Many of them are located in Central-Eastern Europe, but there are exceptions to this rule. Which cities have struggled with low air quality in 2020 and why?

Kraków, Poland

The Polish city appears in the rankings of most polluted cities in Europe every year. The city’s location – a valley – facilitates the formation of smog. Combined with other factors, the valley condemns Kraków to air quality drops every winter.

What are the reasons behind this? Fossil fuels is one to blame. The consumption of coal for heating purposes in Poland is still relatively high compared to neighbors Germany and the Czech Republic. Energy is obtained mostly from coal burning, and this limits the spectrum of fuels for households that do not have their own solar panel installation or other alternative sources.

Similar reasons make other Polish cities climb the top of the rankings every year. The smog problem is mostly confined to the southern regions of the country. For example, Wrocław on the 18th January 2021 noted the highest pollution levels in the world, surpassing Beijing and other Chinese cities, Karachi or Dhaka.

Vidin, Bulgaria smog

In the case of this Bulgarian town, industry is definitely the main culprit. Located on the border between Romania and Serbia, Vidin is known as the capital of the machine and agri-food industry. That, combined with  coal usage, leads to frequent and drastic air quality drops.

Milano, Italy

Even though the problem of low air quality is more present in the Central-Eastern regions of Europe, the South also struggles with it. Milano has been considered the Italian smog capital for many decades. However, the reasons behind it are slightly different to the previous cases. The region of Lombardy is the center of Italian industry. Therefore levels of toxic gases and particulate matter reach high values regardless of the season. Exhaust fumes and the location – between the mountains – also contribute to it.

Other cities that struggle with smog in Italy are Padova and Napoli.

Summing up, Bulgaria, Poland, and Italy were definitely the European leaders in air pollution levels for 2020, just as in the previous years. However, noting recent initiatives set for the energy transformation, we can expect that may change in the third decade of the XXI century.

Interested in more detailed data on the most polluted cities in Europe? Try using our air quality map or mobile app!



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