In Cracow, we probably know everything about smog, as every day we must inhale the air that is harmful. In 2013 the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a ranking stating that the capital of Lower Poland is the third most polluted city in Europe. This is mostly due to its unfavourable location in the Vistula valley. It goes together with the incoming emission from the adjacent towns and progressive building development in air corridors.
There are many causes of accumulating pollution, but the problem does not only apply to Kraków. According to the WHO, around 6.5 million people all over the world die because of poor air condition. In Poland, this is nearly 50,000 people a year. Even so, we often still ignore the issue of smog, and consequently our health.
What smog actually is?
Smog is an unnatural phenomenon which develops when the air contains a lot of contaminants generated by humans, and the weather conditions (e.g. heavy mist or no wind) promote high concentration of such contaminants. The effects of harmful particulates in the air are most often noticed from October to March, so in the so-called “heating season”.
There are two different types of smog: London smog, which appears mostly in winter and develops due to the incineration of fossil fuels, including low-emission fuels, inappropriate burning of waste and general transport. It is also affected by the phenomenon called thermal inversion. As during rising the smoke gradually cools down, the inversion causes the air temperature to quickly equalise with the smoke temperature. As contaminants cannot rise, they accumulate at low levels.
Photochemical smog (Los Angeles smog), which appears mainly in summer. It originates from car fumes, which contain carbon oxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. Due to the sun rays, exhaust fumes are subject to photochemical reactions, which create other toxins such as aldehydes and ozone.
What do we inhale?
Fine silt PM10 is a mixture of solid and liquid particles of a diameter lower than 10 µm (and for PM2.5, lower than 2.5 µm), suspended in the air in the form of aerosol. PM10 particles enter the upper respiratory tracts and lungs. PM2.5 is so small that it can easily penetrate into the alveoli and then directly to the blood circulation system, so it is considered more dangerous.
Suspended particulates cause such disorders as respiratory tract irritation, breathing problems, cough, increase of asthma symptoms, growing blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and a higher risk of heart attack and cerebral stroke. PM10 and PM2.5 are particularly hazardous to people suffering from heart or lung diseases, the elderly, children and pregnant women.
They also contain sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, benzene, ozone, benzo-(a)-pyrene determined in PM10, as well as heavy metals: lead, arsenic, nickel and cadmium, also determined in PM10. These toxins can cause such problems as skin and eye irritation, pain in the chest cavity, hypoxia of heart, brain and other organs, they also increase the risk of cancer and cause developmental disorders in children and infants.
How to protect against smog?
When there is an increased smog concentration, it is preferred to stay in enclosed rooms (if possible), where the level of contamination is noticeably lower. However, it is still not low enough to completely eliminate the trouble caused by the inhalation of toxins. A simple way to improve the air quality at home is to seal the doors and windows. In such a case, you should remember about trickle vents, which supply an appropriate amount of oxygen to the interior and at the same time prevent the accumulation of carbon dioxide and moisture.
Right, but what if the trickle vent lets in harmful particulates?
Obviously, any unsealing of windows makes contamination penetrate into the room. On the other hand, we cannot shut off the inflow of air, as “fresh” air is simply necessary; we have a good solution: an air filter. In 2017 we were the first enterprise to introduce filtration in the air diffusers designed for the most popular ventilation system used in over 90% of Polish houses. Before, air filters had been reserved only for central units, today they are available to all. A small filter will effectively limit the flow of harmful contaminants, allergens and even mites or large bacteria!