Environmental campaigners have been kicking up a stink after air pollution rocketed in the Romanian capital Bucharest.
Particulate matter (PM2.5) — tiny pieces of pollution from industrial emissions and vehicles — was recorded more than 1,000 per cent above the accepted threshold level, according to monitoring platform airly.org
It prompted a demonstration outside Romania's environment ministry, with protesters wearing gas masks to make their point.
“Environmental policies [in Romania] are badly developed and implemented," Magor Csibi, an environmental activist and former MEP, told Euronews.
"We lack decent public transport, urban green spaces, minimum requirements regarding waste management and proper urban planning.
The previous Social Democrat-led government ditched a tax on polluting cars, leading to thousands of secondhand vehicles being imported into the country and onto the streets of Bucharest. Last month, the mayor of Bucharest, Gabriela Firea also stopped taxing old cars in a move regarded as populist before local elections later this year.
The World Health Organization guidelines say PM2.5 should not exceed 25 ug/m3 over a 24-hour period.
It reached 263 ug/m3 on March 2, according to airly.ro.
Oana Neneciu, executive director of aerlive.ro, another independent monitoring site, told Euronews the situation is dire and poor air quality affects the most vulnerable citizens.
“We have been monitoring air quality for the past 10 years and we came to realise that the institutions responsible for providing a solution haven’t done anything.
"Only by setting up an independent network to monitor pollution did we manage to reveal what’s really going on with the quality of the air we breathe.”
Romania's environment ministry admitted normal pollution levels in Bucharest have been exceeded by up to eight times last week.
It blamed uncontrolled fires and the burning of waste.
Costel Alexe, Romania's environment minister, has ordered a probe and suggested traffic as a possible cause. He added in a Facebook post that the ministry is also investigating companies burning waste illegally.
"Air quality is a matter of national safety and security and should be dealt with accordingly," his press secretary told Euronews.
"The ministry will continue its investigations, including waste managing companies.
"Air quality in Bucharest is a serious threat and can be linked to over 23,000 premature deaths every year."
Brussels has already targeted Romania over air pollution. It launched legal action over excessive air pollution levels in three cities: Iasi, Bucharest and Brasov.