The northern Bulgaria city of Vidin was the worst in exceeding fine particular matter standards, surpassing them for 91 days or 42 per cent of the heating season, independent group AirBG.info said in its annual report.
Next were Rousse (73 days, 34 per cent of the heating season), Plovdiv (65 days, 30 per cent), capital city Sofia (41 days, 19 per cent) and Veliko Turnovo (40 days, 19 per cent), as well as Blagoevgrad (39 days), Varna (37 days) and Bourgas (22 days).
Bulgaria has the highest mortality rate in the European Union. Citing a Ministry of Health report from June 2018, AirBG.info said that 49 people died prematurely in Bulgaria every day, with fine particulate matter as a factor.
This compares with an average of two deaths a day in Bulgaria as a result of car accidents – and Bulgaria has the second-highest road fatality rate in the European Union.
Dr Alexander Simidchiev, head of the Air for Health Association, said that the 29 per cent of the total number of deaths from lung cancer were caused by the dirty air.
Twenty-nine per cent of the total number of deaths from lung cancer is caused by the polluted environment, as were 24 per cent of cases of stroke and 25 per cent of cases of ischemic heart disease.
Dr Simidchiev said that in Bulgaria, air pollution as a morbidity factor was not present in the training of doctors.
AirBG, a civic organisation based on voluntary work which uses crowdsourcing and uses no public funding, now has 900 monitoring points, up from 15 when it began in April 2017.
The report said that the polluted environment had not been in the focus of Bulgarian authorities until April 2017. The authorities were easily lobbied by economic interests and were scared of imposing far-reaching solutions, for fear of losing their jobs.
In Vidin, a major factor in the fine particulate matter was the large and growing numbers of vehicles using the Danube Bridge 2, AirBG.Info’s Stefan Dimitrov said.
Capital city Sofia’s major sources of fine particulate matter come from solid fuel burning and vehicle emissions.
In Sofia, a major concern highlighted in the report is the plan for a waste incinerator at the Sofia thermal power plant near the central station. When burning an average of 600 tons of waste a day, Bulgaria’s capital city would be subject to the amount of harmful emissions that would be produced by a million diesel cars driving 1000km.
Dimitrov said that the plan was for the operator to be Toplofikatsiya Sofia, which previously had been fined for switching off the sensors at the top of its chimneys during peak operations.
The intention was for the waste incinerator to be built by a Danish company which had a similar project in Copenhagen, one of two – with that in Sofia – in the EU, but the plan for the one in the Danish capital was on hold as of 2018 because it had failed to meet ecological disaster management standards.
The planned facility for Sofia would produce emissions affecting densely-populated parts of Sofia, including the city centre. To meet its targets, it would have to import waste from elsewhere.
Dimitrov emphasised that the plan meant that Bulgaria was going in the opposition direction to the policy of the rest of the EU. He likened it to, in the age of the electric car, getting a diesel one.
He was scathing about the measures against air pollution spoken of by Sofia municipality, the Environment Ministry and other authorities. “It’s like the value of the Venezuelan bolivar (currency) – you can have a lot of them, but it doesn’t help”.
(Screenshots from drone footage of Sofia taken by AirBG.info)