World Bulletin / News Desk
The soupy grey smog shrouding Polish cities this winter is one of the most visible symptoms of the EU member's addiction to coal, a deadly habit forcing many to stay indoors or don masks before venturing out.
"During periods of smog, more people with respiratory and circulatory illnesses actually die," she told AFP after examining an asthma patient wheezing heavily amid a spike in pollution in Warsaw.
"Children, pregnant women and the elderly are most at risk from smog, which damages the respiratory tract much in the same way smoking does.
"A child playing outside in the smog is smoking cigarettes, it's the same thing," she told AFP.
One Warsaw hospital reported a 50 percent spike in patients over several days of intense smog during a windless cold snap in January.
As anti-smog masks sold out across Poland this week, Warsaw issued them to police officers on duty across the capital.
A study published last year by the European Environmental Agency (EEA) blamed air pollution -- caused in large part by the burning of coal -- for an estimated 50,000 premature deaths per year in the country of 38 million people.
Seventy percent of Polish households burn low-quality coal or rubbish in old stoves for heat and antiquated coal-fired power plants generate nearly all of Poland's electricity, giving it some of the dirtiest air in the 28-member EU.
The EEA also blames so-called "low-stack" emissions from old household stoves for countless cases of respiratory illness.
The AirVisuals website regularly lists Warsaw, Katowice or Krakow among the world's top ten most polluted cities alongside Beijing or New Delhi.
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