Local governments could save thousands of lives

The Clean Air Action Group has sent a letter to more than 200 mayors, summarising in eleven points what they can do to reduce municipal waste incineration. This extremely harmful and illegal activity is widely practiced in our country.

Almost one third of the Hungarian population burns waste on a more or less regular basis. Every year, hundreds of people contact the Environmental Advisory Office of the Clean Air Action Group to ask what they can do about the stench of burning - in most cases waste incineration - in their localities. Advice includes contacting local government, but feedback suggests that many local leaders do not know what they can do, nor do they recognise their responsibility to reduce this highly damaging activity.

A letter sent to the mayors of the outlying districts of Budapest and Pest County in January 2021 summarises the options available to municipalities to stop illegal burning. As surveys and the experience of the Clean Air Action Group show that the main cause of residential waste incineration is lack of awareness and irresponsibility, a broad awareness-raising campaign can already achieve some results. And those in need should be offered heating assistance with appropriate monitoring. In many cases, notorious incinerators can be discouraged by local land management, police and NGOs. The notary is responsible for clearing up accumulations of non-household waste (usually destined for incineration) within plots.

It would be worthwhile to purchase and install inexpensive and easy-to-use air quality monitors in municipal facilities (e.g. kindergartens). These can be used to raise public awareness and to monitor the air pollution levels in the area to the nearest minute. The Clean Air Action Group also recommends that mayors make it mandatory for municipal staff to watch a video with the most important information on the subject.

Judit Szegő, environmental scientist and project leader of Clean Air Action Group, stated. The fight against illegal burning is legally the responsibility of the district offices, but each of these offices would have to investigate reports from dozens of municipalities, each with a single official who would have to carry out many other tasks. In addition, they usually work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., while the fires that are illegal are mostly set at dawn and in the evening. This is another reason why local authorities have a huge responsibility to protect people's health and lives."

Although the vast majority of the mayors concerned have not yet responded to the Clean Air Action Group's letter, respondents report that they have taken or are taking decisive measures to stop illegal residential burning and express their gratitude for the proposals for action.

In Hungary, air pollution causes the premature deaths of 13,000 people every year, and these people lose an average of about 12 years of their lives. Poor air quality is also responsible for one million cases of illness a year. And the economic damage caused by this exceeds HUF 1500 billion a year.