A class action lawsuit concerning the problem of smog in Poland has been brought before the District Court in Warsaw. This is the first lawsuit of its kind in Poland and one of the first in the world.
Members of the group request that it be established that the defendant State Treasury (Poland) is liable to compensate members of the group for damage, including non-material damage, suffered by members of the group as a result of exceedances in Poland of the limit values for concentrations of PM 10 and PM 2,5 between years 2011 and 2019.
The fact that the Polish residents filed a class action lawsuit should prompt the authorities to take quick and effective action. Decision-makers must finally realise that further negligence will cause real damage, which exposes the State Treasury to damage claims by victims.
Legal services for group proceeding are provided by the team of the office of legal adviser Radosław Górski in Warsaw. The idea of filing a group action is a result of the experience of the last two years in which the law firm has represented ambassadors of the “#pozywamsmog” campaign in court proceedings concerning air pollution in Poland.
According to the members of the group, the State Treasury is liable towards the inhabitants of Poland for the bad condition of the environment, because for many years, despite the legal obligations imposed on it in respect of taking care of the state of the air in Poland, it has not taken appropriate action, and if it has taken any action, it has done so with considerable delay or has acted ineffectively.
In this way, through many years of omissions and a series of irregularities, the authorities have led to the fact that for many years the air condition in Poland has been bad, which undeniably violates the rights of the inhabitants of our country and causes them various kinds of damage and harm.
There is nothing to suggest that the Polish authorities intend to change this state of affairs in the coming years. This is evidenced both by the lack of significant effects of the implementation of the “#czystepowietrze” programme and by the statements of the authorities, which show that Poland not only does not intend to abandon the coal-fired power industry, but even treats coal as a strategic resource.
We would like to remind you that Poland is a country where, for many years now, every year there have been very significant daily and average annual exceedances of PM 10 and PM 2. 5 concentrations. Exceeding the PM 2. 5 limit values in Poland is common, as it occurs at most measurement points. For years, Poland has been one of the most polluted countries in Europe. People living in the southern part of Poland are in the worst situation, but even in relatively unpolluted parts of the country the permissible standards of air pollution are exceeded.
According to estimates by the World Health Organisation, around 3 million people die prematurely from air pollution every year in the world. In Poland, as a result of poor air quality, up to 45 thousand people die every year, and about 10% of lung cancer is a result of environmental pollution. The cost of premature death of citizens caused by contaminated air is estimated at around 100 million dollars per year for our country.
Scientific research confirms that not only long-term but also short-term exposure to airborne dust contamination causes premature deaths, respiratory, nervous and circulatory system diseases, metabolic disorders, contributes to heart attacks and strokes, and has mutagenic and carcinogenic properties (can lead to cancer, including lung cancer). Children, pregnant women and the elderly are the most vulnerable. These groups of people suffer the most serious health consequences of being in polluted air.
Doctors present more and more evidence of the relationship between air pollution and the number of miscarriages, premature births, or the number of newborns with birth defects. Research results clearly indicate that exposure of mothers during pregnancy to suspended particulate matter has an impact on birth weight, growth and circumference of the newborn’s head. This results in weaker intellectual development and weaker immunity at a later age, e. g. increased risk of respiratory tract infections and asthma. The quality of the air that children breathe has a direct impact on their health in later life stages.
The World Health Organisation has identified PM 2,5 as the most dangerous particulate matter for human health, considering all air pollutants. The particles of this dust mechanically damage the respiratory system and form an aerosol in the air, and together with harmful, often carcinogenic substances, they enter the blood through the respiratory system. This can contribute to many diseases, especially cardiovascular diseases, and to genetic changes, and therefore harms even the next generation. Polluted air also limits children’s intellectual abilities.
A large part of the population is not aware of how harmful the air we breathe every day is and of the fact that the authorities for many years have not taken effective action to prevent people being poisoned, although they have such an obligation under the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, laws and regulations of Community law. Public authorities are obliged to protect the environment and prevent negative consequences of its degradation for health. Therefore, it is their task to reduce the level of air pollution.
The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on 22 February 2018 that Poland violated EU law on air quality by exceeding notoriously the limit values for concentrations of harmful dust. None of the Polish air protection programmes at national or regional level clearly states that such programmes must aim to limit exceedances of air pollution in the shortest possible time. The Polish authorities have been failing for many years to meet their obligations to reduce the level of poisonous substances in the air. The scale of the problem is really huge, and the corrective action taken so far has proved ineffective.
It is the duty of governments to ensure access to uncontaminated air. It is the responsibility of decision-makers to protect the environment. Meanwhile, the government is passively watching its progressing degradation, which in addition has a very negative impact on human health.