A glimpse at the polluted air and piles of thrash and rubbish in one of the slums of Bulgaria

Plovdiv's citizens win a battle for cleaner air

Plovdiv's citizens win a battle for cleaner air

The Supreme Court of Cassation found the city guilty in 11-year-old case for air pollution

At the end of July, the Bulgarian Supreme Court of Cassation ruled in favour of the Association for European Integration and Human Rights in a landmark case against the Municipality of Plovdiv. The court ruling mandates that the local government has to drastically reduce air pollution by 22 July 2022.

The plaintiffs were not fighting for material compensation from Plovdiv, instead, they were trying to use the law to force the local government into taking action against the dangerous levels of fine dust particles in the city.

According to Mihail Ekimdzhiev, the chairman of the association, this is the first time the court rules in favour of the citizens in a case like this.

Unbreathable Plovdiv – a social problem

The Association for European Integration and Human Rights is a loose coalition of lawyers and over 100 activists in Plovdiv. 11 years ago, they decided to file a case against the city, because pollution was getting out of hand.

The plaintiffs submitted data collected from 2007 to 2011 to the court which showed that the health limit of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of fine dust particles was exceeded nearly 200 times in 2010 alone. Pollution meters were going off the chart for 150 days in 2010.   

Mihail Ekimdzhiev and his associate, Lyubozar Fratev paid over 10,000 euros for research into the city air quality. Their data helped to form the backbone for the case, while it also identified the main polluters. According to the study they did, Plovdiv is at the top of the most polluted large cities in the European Union in terms of the length of time that fine dust particles were present in the air in levels above the accepted norm.

The biggest contribution to pollution comes from domestic heating. The second is traffic, with industry and winter street maintenance following after that.

Bulgaria uses a mixture of salt and sand as an anti-icing agent during the winter, however, the sand tends to pile up on the streets and when winter is over, contributes to the clouds of dust, formed by passing cars.

A whopping 75% of dust particles come from domestic heating, while traffic contributes just around 14% and industry – between 7% and 14%.

The data clearly shows that pollution in the city is a social problem, rather than an industrial one, as people prefer to heat their homes with polluting fuels like coal and wood - with the poorest neighbourhoods burning just about whatever they can find.

Despite the root cause for pollution, the court still ruled in favour of The Association, declaring that the city violated their obligation to the health of the people and the European Union’s air quality policy. Thus, the court forced Plovdiv to take action and clean up the air.

Old wounds that have not healed

It is important to note that the Supreme Court of Cassation made the ruling based on 11-year-old data, however, they consider the problem to be ongoing. This is because Bulgaria was found guilty by the Court of Justice of the European Union on the matter of pollution.

In the end, the Supreme Court of Cassation’s decision mandates that the pollution could exceed the accepted health threshold of 50 mg/m3 for only 35 days per year.

At the same time, if the city fails to comply with the ruling within a year, there will be no automatic sanctions. Instead, any citizen of Plovdiv will have the right to file a court appeal for health reimbursement against the local government in the Bulgarian court or the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg.



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