Bulgaria: Bad air quality in Sofia on Saturday

Written by on January 6, 2018 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Bulgaria: Bad air quality in Sofia on Saturday

Update January 7, 08:32am: The air quality in Sofia deteriorated substantially in the past hours. In Sofia’s Obelya quarter, the PM10 concentration was 632µg/m³ this morning, which is about 30 times the value which would lead to a pollution alarm in a country like Austria. In other parts of Sofia, in and around the city centre, the PM concentration was between 130 and 500µg/m³, depending on the area. Using the adjective “terrible” in order to describe the air quality in Sofia is appropriate, with data of this kind.

The air quality in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, was bad on Saturday, in spite of the fact that there was not that much traffic. In the afternoon, the concentration of particulate matter (PM) in the air was unhealthy in most areas.

Unhealthy values are a matter of opinion, but only in part. While Austria already sounds the alarm when the particulate matter (PM) concentration reaches 22 μg/m³ (micrograms per cubic metre) in its annual average, other countries might have a higher threshold in cities.

An immediate PM value (as opposed to an annual average) of 50 μg/m³ might be acceptable for the area around highly frequented streets or roads. But that would be pretty much the maximum. Healthy would not be the right adjective to describe that level.

“Air Bulgaria” measures the air quality all day long. The address is airbg.info/map.

In most parts of Sofia, the level was far higher than that on Saturday afternoon, thanks to the use of solid fuels for heating, in combination with some traffic. Even in a Sofia quarter as quiet as Doktorska Gradina or Losenets, the Diesel and PM clouds could be smelled and felt.

Gorna Banya, in the outskirts of Sofia, is not known for a lot of traffic. Still, the PM10 level was 106µg/m³, and the smaller, more dangerous PM2.5 level was 82 at 4:45pm. Whatever way anyone could try to play with those numbers, they are absolutely unhealthy.

At the same time, things looked only a little better in Buxton, which does not mean people should have breathed the air over there either. Poduyane looked just as bad as Gorna Banya. So did the larger part of the city centre along with many other quarters.

The only larger “green” spots in Sofia, with an acceptable air quality, were the posh neighbourhoods Boyana and Dragalevtsi, according to the “Air Bulgaria” map, the data for which are based on what a growing number of measuring stations put out.

Hristo Iliev with his breathing mask. Photo by Hristo Iliev.

Sofia resident Hristo Iliev manages the NGO Spasi Sofia (“Save Sofia”). He knows about city planning, road work and air quality. And what did he do? He purchased a breathing mask. On a social media site which mainly uses the colours blue and white, he complained he could not take a walk in his home town without that mask. And he is right.

Too many Sofia residents underestimate the damage the terrible air quality can do. The number of deaths in Bulgaria, as a result of the latter, is the highest in all of the European Union. Maybe it is high time to wear masks on days like this one.

In the meantime, Hristo Iliev is not completely satisfied with his new Hannibal Lecter mask either: “I also ordered an air filtration apparatus for home and another for the car. I guess I am supposed to live like fish in an aquarium now, so that I can breathe normally.” He is right yet again, meaning he is most likely doing the right thing.

Sofia Municipality says it wants to tackle the grave problem of the air quality in town. So far, the city has purchased new eco buses. More drastic measures were only talked about and envisaged, so far.

Of course, particulate matter is not the only threat to Sofia residents or anyone living in a city with dirty air.

Main photo: The Sofia smog on Saturday, from the perspective of the Business Park in Mladost. Photo by Hristo Iliev.

The “Air Bulgaria” map can be accessed here, Spasi Sofia here.


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