Paweł Pawlik, Onet: Is it true that the inhabitants of Rybnik take a deep breath in the fall and do not exhale until spring?
Wacław Wrana, “Bad Stove”: It is, in the heating season we try not to breathe. Seriously speaking, all it takes is a brief moment of high air pressure and windless weather and from September until April there is no clean air in Rybnik to breathe. Today is a windy day so it’s beautiful outside and we are temporarily not choking on smog.
It is not common in the smog season, is it?
Beautiful fall is very rare in Rybnik.
Still, there are many people in the city who are skeptical and manifest their disbelief in the existence of smog and go outside for a walk despite air pollution levels being horrendous and the concentrations of harmful substances in the air are soaring.
I come across opinions that smog is a notion created by ‘eco terrorists’ and that people have been burning coal in Silesia for generations and it wasn’t a problem before.
What do you say to that?
I will surprise you – it is partly true. In the 1980s, smog may actually have been a lesser problem and the quality of air was in fact better. Back then people burned clean coal and not coal slurry and flotation concentrates, there were fewer cars and urban density was not as high, also the number of boilers and fireplaces was much smaller than today. However, since the 1990s and 2000s we have been dealing with an enormous escalation of the problem and in fact there are no arguments whatsoever to support the claims of the ‘smog skeptics”.
If you do not want to trust the measurements, you can easily trust your senses…
The situation in Rybnik is such that when the limits are surpassed by a few hundred per cent, and there are days when they are one thousand times too high – I am referring here to the PM10 and PM2.5 limits – the stench of exhaust fumes permeats inside homes despite closed windows. Both the air quality measurements and physical sensations are clear. I cannot understand how someone is not bothered by the stench.
The fact that Rybnik, Pszczyna and Wodzisław Śląski are at the top of the list of most polluted cities does not mean that the situation in neighbouring towns is much better. We simply have air quality sensors installed . The problem applies to the entire Rybnik municipality and most Silesian towns. Smog does not stop at city limits.
There are 27 districts in Rybnik, most of which are in the suburbs and are developed mostly with single-family housing. Based on 2020 data, 14,000 out of 18,500 single-family houses had to have heating stoves replaced with devices that meet the standards. On the other hand, the city is a leader in terms of the number of people applying for subsidies as part of the “Clean Air” public programme. This is a change for the better, isn’t it?
Yes, a minor change, though. However, nobody knows whether it is caused by the progress in the process of replacing old sources of heat or by the climatic changes such as warmer winters and stronger winds across the entire heating season.
However, in two months’ time one of the most important stages of implementation of the anti-smog resolution will commence in the Silesian Province. As from the new year inhabitants will be required to replace obsolete stoves and boilers under the resolution. Will this solve the smog issue in Silesia?
The resolution is an opportunity for solving the problem of smog. In my opinion if local government adhere to the recommendations developed by the Silesian Association of Municipalities and Counties it might.
What recommendations are you referring to?
Their authors have approached the problems that we will face as from 1 January in a pragmatic and human way”, he says. They have taken into account different situations. It is a fact that some people did not replace their old stoves because of their own fault and ignorance and as per the recommendations such people should be punished with no exceptions. However, other people who have not replaced the stoves cannot be blamed for it because they may have had problems with access to goods and services i.e. ecological stoves and specialists who can install them.
Other people still did not manage to replace the stoves because of delays in the construction of a gas network in many places around the Silesian Province. In such case it would be difficult to expect someone who had already signed a gas supply agreement with the gas company but the network has not been executed yet – such people should not be made to replace a coal stove with a newer coal stove. In this context, some of the provisions of the anti-smog resolutions are hard to enforce.
How big is the problem?
It’s hard to say. It definitely does not concern one city or municipality only. I think this may be the case with a few if not a dozen or so municipalities in the Rybnik region alone. We have to bear in mind that a large part of our sub-region (28 municipalities and counties of the Southern Silesian Province ed. note) inhabited by approximately 600,000 people still has no access to municipal gas and heating networks. This is an enormous civilisational delay. Both the government and state-owned companies should feel guilty for not accelerating works on improving the situation in a region so severely stricken with the problem of smog and polluted air”, Wrana explains.
Many people are replacing coal stoves with other coal stoves as they have no other choice. Although the newer stoves meet the required standards they still use fossil fuels which in Western Europe is already considered a fuel that should be eliminated from the market.
In the light of what you have said, the idea of prohibiting the use of coal as a source of heat in Silesia – as is the case in Kraków – are simply unrealistic. At least over the next 10 years or so.
This is certainly a bad idea for the ‘here and now’. If we implemented a ban on using coal in Rybnik overnight, half the city would be cut off from the only source of heat available. As such, I am not sure whether we will be ready to apply such strict solutions in ten years’ time. On the other hand, the people of Rybnik are setting up photovoltaic systems and heat pumps without waiting for the local government to take action. It is a common approach, here in the city. It may turn out that when the Polish Gas Company finishes its investment plans over the next few years, after the gas supply network is executed, there will be no households interested in getting connected to it.
The people of Rybnik are fighting smog on their own but have adopted a unique approach to the problem. You are the originator of the “Bad Stove” campaign.
It was born out of a sense of helplessness and despair that I, my friends and my co-workers all experienced. We live here, our children grow up here, we have jobs here. We are frustrated that nothing was done so far. We came up with a campaign aimed at helping citizens who feel like they are being poisoned by their neighbours.
As part of the campaign we invite anonymous notifications of poisoners (this is what we call people who use black-smoke-belching stoves or burn bad harmful fuels) and send them request to stop polluting the environment. The requests are sent by a law firm we collaborate with. In the requests we explain, educate and show solutions. We tell people where and how to get subsidies for replacing their stove or boiler.
What if there is no reaction?
The second step is notifying the municipal police of the need for an inspection of a given address. If this doesn’t work either, the third step is filing a request with the village head or town or city mayor to institute proceedings aimed at forcing the given person to replace a stove or boiler in pursuance of an administrative decision.
Do you have a lot of work?
Over the two years of our campaign we received 2,000 notifications from people. We sent out the same number of requests to the poisoners. Nine administrative proceedings have been instituted and in one the decision was in our favour – the head of the Godów county issued a decision requiring the addressee to replace a black-smoke-belching stove with an ecological heat source.
What is the reach of your campaign?
Most of the notifications we receive are from the Silesian Province but we have had notifications from all 16 Provinces. This is proof positive of the extent of the problem. Smog is not only a Silesian problem.
Will the campaign be run until the last obsolete stove is replaced?
Yes it will, although we would like to end it as quickly as possible.
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