Dirty Bucharest in 2020 – Bucharest Air Quality Discussion


In case you had not noticed, air quality in many cities in Romania have fallen so far, they represent a very real danger to health. But the official state measurements are very selective, and the issue is dismissed by many politicians who are concerned more about votes than health of the people. PM2.5 pollution for example, is not recorded at all (th I is the most dangerous to health as the particles are small enough to not only contaminate lungs, but also enter the blood street, and there is a direct and high correlation between these pollution particles and heart, lung, and respiratory deseases/mortality. Tonight for example in Calea Victoriei, on a quiet bank holiday Saturday evening, the pollution is almost 17 times above the healthy limit.

“The air pollution levels will be checked weekly and the public authorities will be held accountable”, environment minister Costel Alexe said amid growing concerns about the air quality in Bucharest and other large cities in the country.

The minister’s statement came after Octavian Berceanu, a member of the Bucharest General Council representing Save Romania Union (USR), likened the pollution levels in Bucharest to that in Sydney impacted by the recent bushfires. In a Facebook post, Berceanu said that the levels of PM10 / PM2.5 particulates, which negatively affect human health, are similar in the two cities. Using data from independent national and international air quality monitoring platforms such as Airly and Aerlive, he found that the PM10 levels reached 161 ug/m3 in Bucharest and 169 ug/m3 in Sydney during the night, over the weekend.

He pointed to several pollution sources in the capital, such as the traffic during the day or, at night, the illegal transport of demolition waste from construction sites, the illegal burning of waste and oil at warehouses, the thermal energy producers (CET plants), and the wind-carried pollution from the Rudeni and Iridex warehouses.

Minister Alexe also said that in the country’s large cities, pollution levels are way above “what we should experience as residents of a European capital or city in 2020.”

He also advised Bucharest residents to use masks to protect themselves, Rfi.ro reported. “When it comes to the health of the population, I obviously recommend anything that could protect them, including, if possible, these masks […],” the minister said.

The minister said that, in 2018, air quality measurements, showed acceptable limits concerning air quality were exceeded in 70 cases. “Chances are high that the levels recorded in 2019 were higher than those in 2018. Many times, the environment minister is pointed to as the one who should solve the issue of pollution in Romania. This is not true. It is not the Environment Ministry that can control pollution in the capital,” the minister said.

Reacting to the debate, Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea said that, although measures have been taken to improve air quality, what has not been done “in tens of years” cannot be done in 36 months. She also argued that the environment minister, a member of the National Liberal Party (PNL), should held accountable the PNL city councilors who blocked the projects aimed at fighting pollution. So as you see, standard political buck-passing with reasons why it cannot be improved rather than any actual practical suggestions, aside from mask wearing.

The Bucharest City Hall belittled the credibiliy of the independent air monitoring networks by stating “they not authorized by the Environment Ministry and are not managed by the institution”,. The City Hall said the official air quality data, which Romania reports yearly to the European Commission (but crucially, does not actually record the most harmful particulates, PM2.5’s), are obtained from the National Network for Air Quality Monitoring (RNMCA), an institution administered by the Environment Ministry. It also pointed to measures aimed at fighting pollution in the capital, such as the Oxygen vignette, a special tax for cars not meeting Euro 5 pollution standards that drive through the city, the acquisition of new means of public transport, and traffic management measures.

In 2018, the European Commission decided to refer Romania to the Court of Justice of the EU for failing to meet air quality standards. According to the EC, air pollution levels with particulate matter in the region of Bucharest have been persistently exceeded ever since the EU law became applicable to Romania.

Airlive.ro is a private network that monitors air quality in Bucharest, launched at the end of last year. It currently measures air quality parameters through a network of ten sensors but aims to reach a network of 50 sensors in 2020. The supporters of the project said at its launch that Bucharest does not have a functional network for measuring air quality managed by the Environmental Protection Agency, hence the need for this initiative.

Bucharest doesn’t rank among the European capitals with the highest area of green spaces, with 23 square meters of parks and green areas per inhabitant, but managed to exceed Paris, which only has 2 sqm of green areas per capita. It is however far behind Tallin, that has almost 500 sqm of green areas per inhabitant, or Vienna, with 120 sqm.

Despite the increasing trend on bicycle, electric scooters etc use, Bucharest still fares low compared to other European countries.

Bucharest has around 240km of Bike lanes including work in progress. However, the number of bike trips in a city isn’t directly proportional to the length of the bike lanes. This has been proved by Copenhagen, with 400 km of lanes and more than half of the work trips done by bike, while Helsinki, with 1,200 km of lanes, shows a 10 percent ratio of bike rides within work transport. Studies have shown that more developed economies tend to choose less polluting means of transport and set higher environmental standards, which in turn influence the quality of life.

Bucharest’s administrative organization, with its 6 districts at almost 3 million inhabitants, is structured differently to Budapest, for example, which has 1.7 million inhabitants and 23 districts. In Bucharest, the local general budget is decided by the Bucharest mayor, while each district runs its own budget. Bucharest is among the minority group of cities with a de-centralized budget and district heads are chosen directly by the citizens.

Immediate/ long term actions that could improve air quality in Bucharest include, at county level:

  • Encouraging cleaner transport such as extending byclicle lanes,
  • Increasing tax on dirty fuel, while reducing taxes on greener transport
  • Toll charging for city access
  • Active parking permits and charging to free up spaces and reduce search times,
  • Greeing the city’s open spaces
  • Upgrading public transport
  • Adding many more metro stops (40 or more stations for optimal coverage of the city’s growing housing areas)
  • Improving the ring road
  • Introduction of intelligent traffic lights
  • Optimising choke point junctions with filter lanes
  • Addition of bridges and underpass at choke points
  • Active panaty system for polluting businesses
  • More aggressive and frequent vehicle emission tests

And at individual inhabitant level

  • Household/ office plants, household air filtration/cleaning devices
  • More use of LED lighting, incentivised by reduced purchase taxation
  • Consumers choosing reduced packaging items
  • Minimised use of air conditioning, better energy rated appliances,
  • Using cleaner transportation, including stoo/start engine technology, less use of in car A/C while driving to reduce fuel consumption
  • Reduced use of hot water and heat,
  • Better home and business premises insulation
  • More vegan style living – animal consumption is a major source of pollution,
  • Promotion of pollution knowledge and awareness instead of being embarrass about it and making excuses, at State level.

What ideas do you have to improve Bucharest air quality?

Click here for the latest ‘official’ metrics on pollution & cleanliness in Bucharest, but independent metrics show a much worse picture, which, frankly, are more credible than the politicised official results

Comparison of pollution between Brasov & Bucharest