The year 2020 has just began, and it already marked a first ever for me: the first year that I started to worry about the air quality in Romania and especially the air quality of the city that I live in right now, Drobeta Turnu Severin.

This winter was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, with the air impossible to breathe in some occasions. The air quality is so bad that you don’t even need a fancy tool to test it: your nostrils are enough.

Smog is now a reality here in Romania. Whenever it’s foggy in my city (and most likely in most places in the country), the air becomes hard to breathe. It feels like you’re behind an old car, breathing in all its exhaust.

It’s so bad that once, after a 60 minutes walk around the city during the evening, when I got home, my clothes smelled bad. Something that I never thought possible anywhere in Romania.

Funnily enough, it seems that I am not the only one who started to get worried about the poor air quality in Romania. While nobody really seems to care about the smaller cities in the country, the larger ones where more voices can be heard, are already drawing alarms about this very important matter.

There has been recent chatter about the very poor air quality in Bucharest – Romania’s capital – where the quality of the air was as low is it was in the Australian regions affected by the massive bushfires this year (statement made by Romania’s environment minister).

Are we really that far from this?

Interesting enough, there are a few official air quality monitoring systems in Bucharest – and throughout Romania – but these are placed in the least polluted areas: inside parks and near forests in Bucharest, for example; or near the Danube, away from the city in my case.

They also check just one of the important pollutants nowadays (and sometimes none, just various gases): the PM 10, while the 2.5 PM should also be monitored.

Because of these gimmicks, the authorities have official data that says that the air quality in Romania is acceptable or good. Which is definitely not the case.

Why is the air quality so low in Romania?

There are a few reasons why the quality of the air that we breathe here in Romania has been going down over the past several years. As I said, it is my first ever year when I actually have trouble breathing when I go out.

I can’t open the windows early in the morning or after 5 PM, because that horrible smell gets into my room! This is unacceptable and scary at the same time.

One of the main reasons that makes everything worse is the time of the year: it’s winter now when I am writing this article and winter comes with two things: cloudy skies (that trap all that pollution below them) and people heating their homes.

In Romania, a big portion of the heating is done by burning wood. Almost all houses in my city have wood burning stoves, and you can imagine how bad it gets when the smoke from all of them starts floating in the air. But also the cities’ add to the pollution of the air with their heating methods, sometimes powered by coal.

The number of cars has grown like crazy. And since Romania is not one of the wealthiest countries around, we’re usually talking about old, second hand cars brought from Western Europe. And these are worse to the environment than new ones are.

Not enough nature is left…

In my city alone, in the area that I moved into when I bought the apartment in 2014, you could easily see the growing number of cars through the increased difficulty in finding a parking spot.

While in 2014 I never had a problem finding a spot right in front of my apartment building, now I have to scour the area and sometimes park 200-300 meters away.

Plus, everybody I know is complaining about the increasing number of cars: the people here no longer seem to consider it enough having a car for the family, but a car for each member of the family. And this doesn’t help with the air quality problem!

And there are other factors that contribute as well: illegal burning of waste and garbage, intensive construction work in most cities and various factories that are close to the living areas… all these make the air that we breathe dangerous. And it seems that it all gets worse during the winter when nature can’t clean it as fast as it would if the skies were clear.

Is the air quality really that low in Romania?

Even though there has been a change in stance recently, most of the official data says that the air quality here is within the legal parameters.

However, since it’s 2020 and gadgets for measuring the air quality are easier to obtain, and there are also NGOs that like to take the matters into their own hands, we don’t have to rely on the official data alone – which might not be complete (not counting all the important air pollutants).

I have personally bought an air purifier for my room last year. I did that because I suffer from all sorts of allergies and the air purifier helps keep the air clean and it has really helped. But it also shows me the quality of the air in my room.

When I got it, it was initially showing an AQ of 30 (which is not great, but OK), going down to 2 (which is great) after running for a few hours. And it kept going like this – more ore less – during the year. But when winter came, as soon as I open the winter (to let clean air in – I thought), the air quality drops instantly to 50 and above.

The worst it got was to 120 – when you entered the room it felt like there had been a car running there for a while.

It’s not just my air purifier who shows that the air quality in Romania is really low: a website called AerLive.ro was launched to measure the real air quality in Bucharest (by NGOs and other organisations) and the results are really bad especially in the evening and during the night.

I also remember that there was an NGO that measured the air quality worldwide (also in Romania) through their own tools that individuals could order, use and share the data – but I wasn’t able to find that website again.

I remember that it showed much worse data than the official one, simply because it measured all the pollutants, including the PM 2.5 and PM 10. (If anybody knows that website, please share it).

Since this was not official data, the Romania authorities claimed that they won’t accept them, as the tools used are not approved by them. Fortunately, we live in a decade where the truth breaks through easier and faster than during any other period, so people are slowly getting aware of the problem.

What can you do about the low air quality in Romania?

Right now, there is not much you can do about this. The government will probably start rolling out some measures that will improve things a bit – but it will be slow and difficult.

However, it’s good to know that the worst air is measured during the winter – and during this time, we don’t have a ton of people visiting the country. So as long as you’re not here in the winter, things will look much better.

The environment minister also recommended people in Bucharest to wear face masks to protect themselves against pollution.

This will definitely draw in some stares on the streets, but I’ve already seen people wearing masks in my small city, so in the end it’s your decision: if you care more about stares than you do about your health, don’t wear them!

Finally, try to stay inside during the peak air pollution times: strange or not, these are usually during the evening and over the night. When you go out during these times, don’t run in order to reduce the amount of air you take in. This sounds like advice from sci-fi movies. So sad it’s becoming reality!

If you want to actively do your part in keeping the country (and the world) clean, reduce the amount of time you spend in a car, reduce waste as much as possible (as most of it is burned in Romania, causing massive pollution) and support the NGOs and organizations that are trying to save the planet.

But we’ve definitely got a tough fight ahead of us and until then, we don’t really have much of a choice than to know that the air quality in all cities around the country is really low – especially during the winter.

12 COMMENTS

  1. I remember the immovable blue haze in winter over my small town near Sighisoara. I like the smell of wood fires but this was really oppressive. Besides burning wood to heat their homes, the farmers also burned their leftover dried cornstalks. I thought that was a waste of good organic matter but the farmers didn’t have access to farm machinery which could have turned the stalks into feed for livestock. Americans are often smug about the improving air quality in many of our cities. This is more due to polluting industries moving to China and Mexico. Talk about bad air quality! I don’t know about Mexico but I have seen nightmarish pictures of Beijing pollution. The Japanese use kerosene stoves to heat their homes here in Hokkaido. I believe that is a big improvement over coal or wood. I thought Romania was a big natural gas producer? That burns pretty cleanly. I’m sure Russia would love to sell it if you don’t have enough. It might come with “a few strings attached,” though!

  2. Calin:
    Now, I am depressed. Thanks!;-)
    I guess gas masks are now de rigueur in Romania.
    As an apartment owner, don’t you have reserved parking.
    Seems like you SHOULD; you’ve paid for it one way or
    another.
    Maybe you should pull up roots and move to coastal
    Spain or Portugal. I understand the cost of living isn’t “outta sight,”
    and it would be good for “Son Romanian” to grow up with healthy air.
    Try to breathe well!
    ~Teil

    • I did check the air pollution map and, while most European cities are doing really bad in this area, there a few that seem to have a good air quality: understandable choices like the countries in Scandinavia, Germany and France… but also Spain. I was surprised to see them do so well 🙂 We have discussed the possibility of moving several times already and decided against it… although it seems that each day new reasons to do it pop up (but also reasons to stay).

      Regarding the parking space, the apartment didn’t come with one. In most of Romania, in the older buildings, there are no spaces that can be reserved, which helps with the chaos. But everybody seems to be trying to build parking lots nowadays so maybe the problem will be solved sooner rather than later.

  3. Oh, I also wanted to say I enjoyed your short videos on Family Budgets and the Ten Best Cities in Romania. I first thought something was wrong with the sound on my computer but they must have been “silent movies.”

  4. Air quality is bad in a lot of places isn’t it? I’m afraid it’s going to be an ongoing problem for the world, even in so called developed countries. I remember the pollution in Thailand, and at home with the diesel fumes and the fact that burning rubbish and rubber is the way to go :-). That last image is really depressing, but kerosene, wood stoves etc… are not going away anytime soon unfortunately. It all seems so pointless but we definitely gotta keep doing our little bits to help the environment.

    • Yes, with the growing population, things will definitely get dirty sooner rather than later. People here use to burn rubber and basically dump everything into the fire. When I took that long walk around the city with my wife, we were talking, based on the smell of the smoke coming from the houses: “these guys burned their Christmas tree…” “these burned some rubber” “these are burning regular wood” and so on.

      It’s good at least that more and more people are starting to see that they have to do something and even small steps will matter in the long run…

  5. I wish I lived where you do, rather than the centre of Bucharest. Funnily enough, even though we haven’t met, our blogs seem to cover very similar topics. I compiled a post in this exact subject just a week or so before you (www.whitemountain.ro/blog) but this is such a serious topic, the more coverage it gets, the better. Tonight, on a quiet bank holiday Saturday night, the air in the centre of Bucharest is 17x the max healthy limit (pm2.5 levels)

    But there are some things you can do. Not a cheap solution at 500e a pop, unless you get a second hand one on say, ebay, but the Philips air purifiers remove a lot of the harmful stuff & adding plants can help also. i will expand my article to include some of these measures & add a link to this article as it contains details I haven’t covered.

    • Yes, with all the recent media coverage, air quality in the country is definitely one top priority. Regarding the air purifiers to use at home, I actually use a cheap version – the Xiaomi Mi Air Purifier – and I am extremely satisfied with how it performs. When I changed the filter, for example, it was absolutely crazy – it looked so bad that I immediately ordered another one for the living room as well.

      Hopefully now, with more and more coverage and more people drawing alarm signals, the authorities will start implementing measures. 17x the max healthy limit is insane!

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