EU PROTECTS > Our Environment > The burning issue: How the EU is helping fight deadly air pollution in Poland

“With the help of EU funding we replaced our old, polluting coal heater with a new and improved boiler.”

Grzegorz Horwacik

In the EU, air pollution is responsible for around 400,000 premature deaths every year. Poor air quality can lead to lung cancer, strokes, heart attacks and acute respiratory diseases in children. 

Poland’s Małopolska region, along with parts of Czechia and Slovakia, is one of Europe’s most polluted areas. Pollution is particularly heavy in winter when, to keep their homes warm, people burn coal and sometimes waste, releasing smog into the air that threatens people’s health. 

Through an EU funding scheme, Poland’s Małopolska region is combating air pollution from within the household. Air quality experts and activists are making sure that homes have the guidance and means to replace outdated coal-fueled boilers with cleaner, cost-efficient heating systems. So far, 27,000 boilers have been replaced. This region-wide transition is a big step in addressing Poland’s toxic pollution levels, one which holds promise for other areas of Europe battling severe air pollution.

The burning issue: How the EU is helping fight deadly air pollution in Poland

In southern Poland, the EU is funding the replacement of more than 500,000 polluting coal-fired stoves in households. The new boilers – which cut smog-creating pollutants – are one example of how the EU is helping to improve air quality throughout Europe.

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Anke Lükewille

German, European Environment Agency


“Air pollution might not always be visible, but it can affect us immediately with stinging eyes or a scratchy throat. Prolonged exposure to dirty air can have more serious health effects over the long term such as respiratory failure or even heart attack.”

“I collect information on different types and causes of air pollution in all EU countries. Since 2000, sulphur dioxide emissions, mainly from coal burning, have dropped by more than 70% EU-wide. The presence of toxic pollutants in the air that we breathe, such as small dust particles, has also declined significantly. While this is a major achievement, many Europeans still live in heavily polluted areas.”


“We need to make sure air quality standards are respected throughout Europe, so families don’t have to live with pollution.”

 - Anke Lükewille

Thomas Henrichs

German, Air Quality unit, European Commission


“The health of citizens is a top priority for the EU. European laws set limits on dangerous air pollutants and require EU countries to control pollution. This is especially important in sectors like electrical power generation, industrial production or road transport."

"We have been successful: over the last 2 decades, emissions of the main air pollutants have declined. Yet, we still have some way to go to make sure our air is clean.”

“We make sure that EU clean air laws work, and we fund initiatives that improve the quality of the air in our everyday lives.”

 - Thomas Henrichs

Jiří Horák

Emissions scientist, Technical University of Ostrava


“I call myself a ‘Smokeman’. I visit schools, towns and villages in the Ostrava region of Czechia. I travel in my mobile energy lab equipped with a portable stove, which I use to burn wood, coal and waste. This is a hands-on way of showing people the toxic fumes they are breathing in due to their old or poorly operating heaters. Here in my region of Czechia, as in Poland and Slovakia, the EU’s boiler replacement programme is reaching more and more home owners and, in turn, will contribute to improved air quality.”

“With EU support, we’re working in towns and villages in Central and Eastern Europe to get rid of thousands of old boilers.”

 - Jiří Horák

Tomasz Pietrusiak

Environment department, Marshal Office of the Małopolska region


“In my region, air pollution counts for PLN 3 billion (around €800 million) per year in health costs. With EU funding, we’ve hired 60 clean air experts and scientists to promote the boiler replacement initiative in 55 municipalities of Poland. These ‘eco-advisors’ visit schools, community and medical centres, building momentum among residents to burn less coal and consider upgrading their boilers to ones that are less damaging to the environment. By 2023, we hope to replace all old boilers in the Małopolska region.”

“We want to share our successes with other regions in Europe dealing with outdated, heavily polluting heating systems."

 - Tomasz Pietrusiak

Grzegorz Horwacik

Małopolska region


“Our house was built in the 1950s. Before replacing our boiler, we used to burn up to 11 tonnes of coal a year to heat our house. The smog was extremely troublesome, but we didn’t have the money to replace our heating system. Thanks to EU funds we received a reimbursement of nearly €2,000 for a new gas-powered boiler. This covered about 50% of the costs. The positive message is spreading quickly. Two neighbours already changed to the new gas boiler.”

“Today in my region of Poland, more and more boilers are being replaced. I look forward to breathing much cleaner air.”

 - Grzegorz Horwaci

Did you know?

Air-tight updates

The EU’s Air Quality Index gives data on air quality across the EU in real time. Find out how clean your air is now:

Waiting to exhale

Primary pollutant particles (otherwise referred to as ‘particulate matter’) are so small that they can easily be inhaled. Once they’ve entered the lungs, these smog and dust particles pose severe health risks.


The percentage of primary pollutant particles (PM10) caused by old household boilers in Poland. The sources of these pollutants in our air isn’t only burning coal and other dirty fuels used in heating and electricity systems. It’s from car exhaust, road works, agricultural burning and other industrial operations.

20 out of 28

The number of EU countries that still exceed EU pollutant limits.

€20 billion

The cost of air pollution per year in terms of healthcare and lost workdays across the EU.


The number of air quality monitoring stations across Europe.


Some of them may even come from your country.

Connected by the EU, there is a network of local heroes working together to help protect us from pollution, losing endangered species, extreme temperatures and more. From environmental experts to emergency responders, health specialists to social workers, discover how the EU supports local heroes in your country.