Emissions rise at Europe's biggest polluter

| 21st May 2019
Bełchatów Elektrownia
The power plant produces four times as much CO2 a year as all Ryanair flights combined.

Tens of thousands of premature deaths have been attributed to pollution from Europe’s coal plants. The Belchatow coal plant is the largest culprit.

The Belchatow power plant in Poland has seen a rise in CO2 emissions and air pollution for a third year in a row.

The lignite-fired power station in central Poland increased its emissions in 2018, according to data from Poland’s National Centre for Emissions Management (KOBiZE) and obtained by Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.

The Belchatow power plant saw an increase in emissions from 34,9 Mt CO2 in 2016, to 38,3 Mt in 2018, a rise of 10 percent. The power plant produces four times as much CO2 a year as all Ryanair flights combined.

Premature deaths

Along with rising emissions, air pollution levels from the plant have also risen in the last two years, with a 54 percent rise in particulate matter, 50 percent rise in sulphur (SO2) and 8 percent rise in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels, as well as increased heavy metal concentrations such as lead and arsenic released by the plant.

Robert Biedron, founder of a new Polish social-democratic political party called Wiosna, which will run in the upcoming European elections, said: “After decades of investment in infrastructure, we must finally invest in human wellbeing.

“In Belchatow, we have coal left for ten more years. After that a few thousand people will lose their jobs. We have to think about this now.”

Tens of thousands of premature deaths have been attributed to pollution from Europe’s coal plants.

Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) alone caused the premature death of an estimated 422,000 people across 41 European countries in 2015, while exposure to NO2 caused the premature death of an estimated 79,000 people in the same region.

The health impacts of exposure to air pollution are diverse, ranging from inflammation of the lungs, to cardiovascular diseases, breathing conditions, cancer and strokes. Recent scientific research has shown air pollution may be damaging every organ in the body.

Fossil fuels

The 4,4 MW Belchatow plant currently accounts for 20 percent of the Polish power market, and is operated by Polish state-owned coal utility company PGE.

Coal accounts for 80 percent of the country its electricity generation, and will remain the dominant source of power supply in the foreseeable future, with a projected 60% of generation still fuelled by lignite in 2030.

PGE plans to expand several fossil fuel projects in Poland, including the opening up of two new mines, the  Złoczew and Gubin-Brody lignite mines, and the extension of an opencast mine in the town of Turow, despite protests by Greenpeace and other environmental groups.

The new Złoczew mine alone would produce an additional 18 million tonnes of coal a year, leading to the emission of an estimated 25.74 million tonnes of CO2.

Emissions from fossil fuel combustion saw a sharp increase by 3.5 percent in Poland in 2018, despite an average 2.5 percent decrease across the European Union (EU), according to Eurostat data.

This Author

Arthur Wyns is a biologist and science journalist. He is a climate change researcher at the World Health Organization and tweets from @ArthurWyns.

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