Smog: a challenge that hangs in the air in 2022

One topic always hangs in the air once people talk about environmental needs. It's... smog - the cloud of pollution that hovers over major cities, especially on windless days. Smog is the result of human activity. The good news, however, is that we have the power to reduce it. That's important because it lets you breathe clean air!

4 min read


Ksenia Pisera

Journalist, popularizer of knowledge about environmental and climate protection

Air pollution directly impacts health, climate, and the environment.

All people must eat and breathe to survive. Whenever we want to improve our health, we first naturally tend to review our diet – this is when we decide to change the way we eat and limit the intake of highly processed foods. However, with air… we don’t have as much freedom. For can we breathe less or choose what and at what time we will breathe today?

Air pollution directly impacts health, climate, and the environment. According to the European Environment Agency, particulate matter from coal combustion deposited in Arctic regions darkens white surfaces, reducing their reflectivity. This causes the planet to retain more heat, contributing to an increase in global temperature.

Where does smog come from?

Smog is precisely air pollution. The word is a combination of two English words: smoke and fog. This is a very accurate description of the given phenomenon as smog indeed has the characteristics of fog. The difference is that smog comprises chemical compounds such as sulphur and nitrogen oxides, suspended particulates and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Traditional fog, on the other hand, consists of condensing water vapour.

Another difference is that fog is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Smog, on the other hand, requires human activity. Three specific aspects of it, in fact.

  • The first is low emission. Contrary to popular belief, low emission is not about emitting a small amount of harmful substances. In smog terms, low emissions mean the pollution produced at low altitudes. Therefore, it may result from inefficient burning of fuels in domestic cookers, cars, and industrial boiler rooms.
  • The second is transport. Exhaust fumes from cars and dust from the abrasion of tyres and brake discs also contribute to smog formation. At the national level, about 8% of particulate matter is emitted annually, but this statistic can be much higher locally and seasonally.
  • The third is industry – manufacturing plants and coal-fired power stations. These sectors together account for 26% of dust emissions and 11% of benzo(a)pyrene emissions in Poland, according to the Polska Bez Smogu Foundation.

These aspects must therefore be considered as underlying causes of smog formation. The reasons may be, for example, energy poverty among the local community, i.e., a situation in which a household is unable to ensure that its house is appropriately insulated or that its cooker is replaced with a more environmentally friendly one. A lack of appropriate system solutions may also be an issue, e.g. a mismatched network of public transport connections. Additionally, business activities should be monitored, especially regarding the types of solutions used by production plants. The challenge of air protection is complex and requires cooperation on many levels – systemic, business, and individual.

Smog in Poland: London’s or America’s?

While it would seem that smog is simply dirt floating in the air, experts distinguish two main types. These are London smog and Los Angeles smog.

The London smog is the most common type of smog, the one we usually think of in Poland. It consists of sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon oxides, soot and harmful particles and is described as acid and sulphuric. This type of smog occurs most often in the moderate climatic zone from October to March, i.e. during the so-called heating period. It occurs when there is temperature inversion (temperature in the lower air layer is lower than in, the higher layer) and dust emission.

The name comes from a phenomenon that occurred in London in early December 1952.

The Los Angeles smog is formed in conditions of high insolation, high air temperature and heavy road traffic. In Poland, therefore, it may occur most frequently from June to September. This type of smog is described as white or photochemical. It consists of carbon and nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons.

Free yourself from smog

Smog is inseparable from city life. Yet it is something that can be effectively controlled. If you are interested in how you can take care of the climate and the environment, read the TerGo blog. Join the community, and you learn practical and effective tips.