WARSAW (REUTERS) - With days to go before the Polish ski season kicks off in earnest, Poland's most popular mountain resort, Zakopane, is choking in smog denser than in India's capital New Delhi, one of the world's most polluted cities, Polish activists said.
The European Commission said last month it was taking Poland to court over its slowness to address the issue of poor air quality caused by extensive coal-burning in homes which makes Poland's air the most polluted in Europe and poses a major risk to public health.
Around 400,000 people per year die prematurely across the European Union because of pollution, the commission says.
Air pollution in Poland is felt particularly in the south near ski resort towns such as Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains where homeowners often neglect environmental rules.
The concentration of fine dust particles associated with lung disease reached a peak this week of 520 micrograms per cubic metre in Zakopane, according to official figures from the government's environment protection inspectorate (GIOS).
Activist group Polski Alarm Smogowy, in a statement, seized on the figure to say this contrasted with official figures showing a level of 445 micrograms in New Delhi.
The environment ministry acknowledges the problem but says the situation is gradually improving with modernisation of heating systems and other energy-efficiency measures for homes.
But climate activists, who say more than 40,000 Poles die prematurely annually because of poor air quality, are pressing for bolder measures by the government to protect the public.
In Poland, authorities are required by law to raise the alarm publicly when levels of dangerous dust particles hit a concentration of 300 micrograms per cubic metre on average per day.
Activists say this is much lower than other EU countries. The level in France, for instance, is 80 micrograms, they say.
"Are the Poles' lungs more resistant than those of Italians, the French or the Hungarians?" Piotr Siergiej from the Polski Alarm Smogowy said in a comment to Reuters.
Zakopane expects an influx of visitors when school holidays begin on Jan 18. Authorities there said the pollution was caused by traffic, domestic heating and fireworks. Holiday traffic could make the smog worse.