Serbia: the air we breathe


The year 2020 has seen big changes to our lives. Face masks have been introduced into our everyday routine to prevent us from getting infected with COVID-19. Here in Serbia, we don’t like to wear them, mostly because temperatures are still warm and it’s uncomfortable, especially when travelling on public transport. Serbian citizens, temporarily removing their masks for fresh air, may expect to feel a sense of relief… except the air may not be so fresh. This may have something to do with an increased concentration of PM 2.5 and PM 10 particles – a mixture of soot particles, dust, and smoke – that plague Serbia’s air quality.

The pollution problem

The air in Serbia recorded excessive levels of pollution last year. In New Belgrade, a municipality of the country’s capital, the air was classed as ‘polluted’ for a total of 169 days. In Valjevo and Užice, the pollution was six times higher than the legal limit, according to the latest report on air quality for 2019 from the Serbian Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).

The air in New Belgrade, this January.

Aside from these places, the most polluted cities in Serbia were Niš, Smederevo, Kosjerić, Pančevo, Novi Sad, Bor, Kraljevo, Subotica, Požarevac, Zaječar, and Beočin.

People in Bor protesting against Serbia Zijin Copper, accused of increasing city’s air pollution.

Some of these cities have been ranked in the third category of air pollution – the third being the highest. 

In these cities, concentrations of suspended particles PM 2.5 and РМ10 have exceeded the limit value. The city of Bor also faces an excessive amount of SO2. And in Radinac in Smederevo, dark-red dust descends from the iron and steel works owned by the company HBIS GROUP.

People in Smederevo protesting because of the air pollution, February 2020

Causes and finger-pointing

This January, the Serbian government admitted that the country’s air was heavily polluted and formed a crisis team to deal with the worsening problem. The government has claimed that the main cause of the increased pollution is cars and people that rely on coal and wood to survive low temperatures during winter.

While it is true that Serbian citizens still drive “Euro 3” cars and approximately 60 percent of households don’t have a central heating system, citizens are not the only emitters of air pollution.

The problem lies with the aforementioned PM 2.5 and PM 10 particles, as well SO2. The biggest pollutants, according to SEPA, are power plants, because they have proven to suspend more polluting substances than initially anticipated. Furthermore, Serbia has failed to implement a National Emissions Reduction Plan.

In light of this, when Serbians open their AirVisual app, they are rarely surprised to see that the air in their city is ‘polluted’. What has exacerbated the problem for Serbians is that areas officially registered as ‘clean’ cannot always be trusted, given that some of these places simply do not measure their air pollution in the first place.

Serbia’s air pollution problem is here to stay. The data from the World Health Organization shows that air pollution is the cause of approximately 6.600 premature deaths in the country.


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