From: Geri Emiri & Flavja Kenga
Air Pollution, The Killer No One Suspects

Air pollution slowly, steadily robs millions of people of their health, their relatives and their old age.

In 2012, air pollution caused or contributed to one out of every nine deaths worldwide. Of those deaths, outdoor air pollution caused about 3 million. Air pollution kills people all over the world: old people and young people, the rich and the poor. Albania in no exception. 1,842 Albanians died of diseases caused by air pollution in 2012. Even if people don’t die, their lives are unhealthy and often shorter. Albanians in total lived 37,000 years with disabilities because of illnesses related to Air pollution in 2012.  And in 2012 Albanians  have lost 37,000 years of life so it mean that they will die years earlier than they would if it weren’t for air pollution.

How air pollution kills us

Air pollution mostly affect people’s lungs and heart. The most common respiratory illnesses are acute lower respiratory disease (mostly severe coughs), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (heart disease) and lung cancer, which kills the most people outright. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) blocks airflow to the lungs. The main symptoms include shortness of breath and cough. COPD worsens over time. As long as the polluted air passes through the bronchial tube in the throat, it causes inflammation and finally contaminates in the air, the alveoli, the tiny air sacs of the lungs that allow gaseous exchange, get blocked and stop bringing oxygen to your blood. Even climbing stairs become difficult.

Lung cancer happens when chemicals in the air prompt uncontrolled cell growth in tissues of the lungs, preventing them from doing their job. The most common symptoms are coughing (including coughing up blood), weight loss, shortness of breath, and chest pains. Preventing cancer means eliminating risk factors, including smoking and air pollution. Ischemic Heart Disease, a condition that affects the supply of blood, to the heart is the most common cause of death in many countries around the world. One of the main causes is Air pollution.

Pamje nga Lezha

The Contaminants in the Air We Breathe

According to the World Health Organization, transportation is the biggest culprit.  Vehicles are spewing the dangerous substances such as PM10, PM2.5, CO2, Benzen, NO2, O3 and SO2 into the air. Most countries are implementing policies to get these chemicals under control.

Albania has made slow improvements, but some of the most dangerous chemicals are entering the atmosphere at an alarming rate. Albania managed stop the growth of PM10, PM2.5, NO2, O3 and SO2 entering the atmosphere but CO2 and Benzen, the main culprits behind respiratory diseases, are double the recommended limits.

CO2 (carbon dioxide)

Exposure to concentrations of 10 percent or more of carbon dioxide (CO2) can cause death, unconsciousness, or convulsions. Exposure may damage a developing fetus. Exposure to lower concentrations of carbon dioxide can cause hyperventilation, vision damage, lung congestion, central nervous system injury, abrupt muscle contractions, elevated blood pressure and shortness of breath. The CO2 level in Albania is 4.05 µg/m³and EU  norm is 2µg/m³ so double of the norm.

CO2 is produced by burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, gasoline, natural gas, and diesel fuel. Sources of carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to climate change, include fossil fuel burning, electricity generation, transportation vehicles, cement or lime manufacturing, waste burning, and natural gas flaring.


Benzene increases the risk of cancer and other illnesses, and is also a notorious cause of bone marrow failure. Albania has one of the highest cancer growth rates in the region.

Benzene is also one of pollutants that is over twice the EU limit . In Albania Benzene is 10.89 µg/m³ and EU norm is 5 µg/m³. Benzene is one of most dangerous elements of air pollution. Benzene increases the risk of cancer and other illnesses, and is a notorious cause of bone marrow failure.

Benzene is in crude oils and as a by-product of oil-refining processes.

Even though Albania has managed to get some pollutants under control, current levels of certain pollutants are still are a health risk.

PM10, PM2.5

Elements such as particulate matter (small pieces of dust in the air) including PM10 andPM2.5 cause  long-term damage because they can get deep into our lungs and some may even get into our bloodstream. In Albania this element in 2014 was measured at 31.62µg/m³  EU norm is 40 µg/m³ .

PM10 andPM2.5 particulate matter comes from buses and cars and other oil fuel transportation methods.

Ozone (O3)

Ozone(O3) in the air we breathe can harm our health, especially on hot sunny days when ozone can reach unhealthy levels. Even relatively low levels of ozone can be dangerous.

O3 ozone is a secondary pollutant formed by the oxidation of primary pollutants in the presence of solar radiation, which causes climate change.

Pb lead

Lead (Pb) is a highly poisonous metal (whether inhaled or swallowed), affecting almost every organ and system in the human body and can cause severe damage to the brain and kidneys and, ultimately death.

NO2(Nitrogen dioxide)

Some people might have bigger risk being exposed to pollutants that are found in their work place.

NO2 can cause occupational lung diseases. This pollutant mostly affect people who work in agriculture, factories and denotation of explosives.

NO2 nitrogen dioxide the most prominent sources are internal combustion engines burning fossil fuels Outdoors can be a result of traffic from motor vehicles. Indoors, exposure arises from cigarette smoke, and butane and kerosene heaters and stoves.

SO2(Sulfur dioxide)

 SO2 has the following effects on humans: breathing difficulty, airway inflammation, eye irritation, breathing difficulty, heart failure. Sulphur dioxide is also associated with asthma, chronic bronchitis and death in old people and infants.

SO2 Sulfur dioxide is a highly toxic, colourless, non-flammable gas. It is used as a pharmaceutical aid and antioxidant. It is also an environmental air pollutant.


Air pollution levels in Albania between 2010-2014 met Albania’s national goals but some pollutants still exceed European Union norms.

The National Environment Agency in Albania needs more monitoring stations in order for sub-regional analysis of pollutants. Pollution measurements after 2014 are also not available. With available data, it is difficult to pinpoint where the most dangerous pollutants are coming from and warn citizens in those areas of their risks.

In 2010, the European Environment Agency reported on the high level of air pollution in Albania. Albania had higher limits on of air pollution so it lowered its norms to meet European Union regulation. After five years, the legislation on air quality was harmonized with the European Union but many of the regulations have not yet been implemented.

According to the National Environment Agency in the 2013 report, the possible measures that will help to improve the air quality standards in the cities of Albania are:

  1. Reduce the number of cars by promoting the use of public transport
  2. Improvement of public transport
  3. Improving the quality of fuels
  4. Promotion of clean vehicle technologies
  5. Promotion of cycling
  6. Growth of green surfaces
  7. Road network management

 This article was part of the project Data Journalism in Albania, developed by UNDP (United Nations Development Program).