Budapest is among the European cities where air pollution causes most damage: HUF 1,200 billion per year

Polluted air in Budapest causes a loss of about EUR 3,300 million a year, equivalent to 6.2 percent of the city’s GDP, according to a study published today by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA). In terms of the severity of the loss per capita, Budapest with 1,860 euros (680,000 forints) a year ranks 22nd among the 432 European cities surveyed.

The study examined the costs of morbidity and mortality from air pollution in 432 European cities. The resulting loss per capita is the lowest in some cities with 50-200 thousand inhabitants and highest in Bucharest, Milan, Padua, Warsaw, and Bratislava, but Budapest also finished in the lead, ranking 22nd. Other Hungarian cities, Debrecen, Győr, and Pécs were also examined and ranked 319th, 158th and 275th in terms of annual losses per capita, with costs of HUF 297,000, 432,000 and 332,000, respectively.

The study highlights that pollution in Central and Eastern European countries is predominantly derived from heating and transport. The impact of the latter has also been examined separately and it has been concluded that an average increase of one percentage point in travel time when using a car leads to a 0.29-0.54% increase in emissions of certain air pollutants. As a result of a one percent increase in the number of cars, economic losses increase by 0.5 percent.

Gergely Simon, expert of Greenpeace Hungary, said: “Although traffic and air pollution have fallen across Europe in the first period of the coronavirus pandemic, both have largely returned to pre-epidemic levels in recent weeks. There is an urgent need to restrict the traffic of the most polluting vehicles in Budapest; the corresponding initiative of Greenpeace has already been supported by the signatures of more than 35,000 people. We expect the government to provide urgent financial support for the replacement of the most polluting buses at least.”

Zoltán Massay-Kosubek, EPHA's campaign manager, said: “The number of children with asthma in Budapest has doubled in the last 15 years, and more than two thousand persons die prematurely every year due to polluted air. The EPHA study once again highlighted the severe economic consequences. Now, during the second wave of the pandemic, it would be particularly important to keep the air clean, as exposure to polluted air exacerbates coronavirus diseases.”

Márton Vargha, transport policy officer of the Clean Air Action Group, stated: “The decades of idleness are inexplicable in the light of the data. Distance- and pollution-based urban tolls should be introduced, among others, as soon as possible. The government announced already in January this year that it would work with the Budapest Municipality to implement this, and is awaiting the municipality’s proposal. We do not know why this proposal has not been done to date.”

Another research proves that in winter, even in the center of Budapest, there is a significant amount of air pollution from heating, which comes from the outer districts and the surrounding settlements. Therefore, it is urgent to implement the proposals of the Hungarian green organizations as soon as possible. Above all, decisive steps must be taken to eliminate the widespread household waste burning. It should be ensured that where firewood is used for heating, only dry wood is used. Heating aid should be provided to those in need to use less polluting heating materials. Much more support is needed for the modernization of buildings than until. The Budapest Municipality should carry out extensive awareness raising on the correct heating methods.