Engagement of Local Government in Bulgaria with Air Pollution: The Role of Media and Civil Society in Sofia

Keywords: air pollution, engagement, communication, Eastern Europe, media coverage, environmental issues


Air pollution communication and engagement are vital on the road to solving this environmental and health problem. Three main groups tend to engage in it and communicate with citizens: civil society/non-governmental organizations (NGOs), media, and governments. This paper studies how these actors interact in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, as research on air pollution engagement on a city level in Eastern Europe is very limited. This article finds that a “bottom-up” model worked in air pollution engagement in Sofia. Civil society initiatives spark conversations with their actions and can create narratives for the media to cover. When the media started to cover the issue, more and more citizens became aware of it. Thus, pressure is put on local governments to also engage on the topic, with it being the last stakeholder to do so.


Airbg.info. (2023). Za proekta. [For the project]. https://airbg.info/about/

Beaumont R, Hamilton RS, Machin N, Perks J, Williams I.D.(1999) Social awareness of air quality information. Sci Total Environ, 235 (1–3), 319–329.


Bickerstaff, K., Walker, G. (2001). Public understandings of air pollution: the localization' of environmental risk. Global Environmental Change, 11 (2), 133-145.


Binder, S. & Neumayer, E. (2005). Environmental pressure group strength and air pollution: An empirical analysis. Ecological Economics 5, 527-538.


Brimblecombe, P. & Schuepbach, E., (2006). Communicating air pollution science to the public and politicians. Journal de Psysique IV, 139 (2006), 413–423. DOI: 10.1051/jp4:2006139027.

Borbet, T., Gladson, L. & Cromar, K. (2018). Assessing air quality index awareness and use in Mexico City BMC Public Health, 18:538. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-018-5418-5.

Bush, J., Moffatt, S., Dunn, C. (2001). Keeping the public informed? Public negotiation of air quality information. Public Understanding of Science, 10 (2), 213-229.


Cisneros R, & Schweizer, D.W. (2018). The efficacy of news releases, news reports, and public nuisance complaints for determining smoke impacts on air quality from wildland fire. Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health, 11(4), 423–429. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-018-0545-9

Cherneva, M. (2020, December 18). Malko po- malko mrusno [A little less dirty]. Capital. https://www.capital.bg/politika_i_ikonomika/bulgaria/2020/12/18/4153678_malko_po-malko_mrusno/

Corbin, J. & Strauss, A. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theories. (3rd ed.). Sage Publications.

Delmas, M. A., & Kohli, A. (2019). Can apps make air pollution visible? Learning about health impacts through engagement with air quality information. Journal of Business Ethics, 161(2), 279–302. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04215-7

Denscombe, M. (2017). The good research guide. (6th ed.). Open University Press.

European Court of Justice (2017). Judgment of the Court: ECLI:EU:C:2017:267.


Eurobarometer. (2019). Climate change should be parliament's priority, according to citizens. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20191129IPR67710/climate-change-should-be-parliament-s-first-priority-according-to-citizens.

Gemmill-Herren, B. & Bamidele-Izu, A. (2002). The role of NGOs and civil society in global environmental governance. In D. Esty, M. Ivanova (Eds.), Global Environmental Governance: Options and Opportunities. (pp. 77-100).


Johnson, B. (2012). Experience with urban air pollution in Paterson, New Jersey, and implications for air pollution communication. Risk Analysis, 32(1). DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2011.01669.x.

Johnston, J. E., Juarez, Z., Navarro, S., Hernandez, A., & Gutschow, W. (2019). Youth engaged participatory air monitoring: a ‘day in the life’ in urban environmental justice communities. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(1), 93. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17010093

Kenis A. and Barrett, B. (2021). The role of the media in staging air pollution: The controversy on extreme air pollution along Oxford Street and other debates on poor air quality in London. Environment and Planning С: Politics and Space, 40(3), 611-628. doi:10.1177/2399654420981607

Kim, M., Yi, O., Kim, H. (2012). The role of differences in individual and community attributes in perceived air quality. Science of the Total Environment, 425, 20–26.


Mayer, B. (2012). Relax and take a deep breath: Print media coverage of asthma and air pollution in the United States. Social Science and Medicine, 75(5), 892-900.

doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.04.024.

Murukutla, N., Negi, N., Puri, P., Mullin, S., Onyon, L. (2017) Online media coverage of air pollution risks and current policy in India: a content analysis. WHO South East Asia Journal of Public Health, 6(2), 41-50. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28857062.

Niedziałkowski, K., & Chmielewski, P. (2023). Challenging the dominant path of forest policy? Bottom-up, citizen forest management initiatives in a top-down governance context in Poland. Forest Policy and Economics, 154, 103009. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forpol.2023.103009

O’Leary, H., Parr, S., & El-Sayed, M. M. (2022). The breathing human infrastructure: integrating air quality, traffic, and social media indicators. Science of the Total Environment, 827(154209). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.154209

Oltra, C. & Sala, R. (2015). Communicating the risks of urban air pollution to the public. A study of urban air pollution information services. Revista internacional de contaminación ambiental, 31(4) 361-375. https://www.redalyc.org/journal/370/37043336004/html/

Qian, X., Xu, G., Li, L., Shen, Y, He, T., Liang, Y., Yang, Z., Zhou, W., Xu, J. (2016). Knowledge and perceptions of air pollution in Ningbo, China. BMC Public Health, 16 (1138). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-016-3788-0.

Petrov, S. (2017). Stolichniyat obshtinski savet prie merki sreshtu zamarsyavaneto na vazduha [The metropolitan municipal council adopted measures against air pollution] Focus Radio. http://focus-radio.net/%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B8%D1%87%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F%D1%82-%D0%BE%D0%B1%D1%89%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8-%D1%81%D1%8A%D0%B2%D0%B5%D1%82-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B5-%D0%BC%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%BA%D0%B8/

Ramírez, A. S., Ramondt, S., Van Bogart, K., & Perez-Zuniga, R. (2019). Public awareness of air pollution and health threats: challenges and opportunities for communication strategies to improve environmental health literacy. Journal of Health Communication, 24(1), 75–83. https://doi.org/10.1080/10810730.2019.1574320

Ramondt, S., & Ramírez, A. S. (2020). Media reporting on air pollution: Health risk and precautionary measures in national and regional newspapers. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(18), 6516. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17186516

Sanderson, E., Fudge, N., Tothlandsdal, I., Brunekreef, B. & van Bree, L. (2006). Stakeholder needs for A-air -pollution and health information. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 69 (19), 1819-1825. DOI: 10.1080/15287390600631557.

Skov T, Cordtz, T., Jensen, K., Saugman, P., Schmidt, K. & Theilade, P. (1991). Modifications of health behavior in response to air pollution notifications in Copenhagen. Social Science and Medicine. 33(5):621–626. doi:10.1016/0277-9536(91)90220-7.

Smetna palata na Republika Bulgaria. (2018). Oditen doklad za izvarshen odit na izpalnenieto „Efektivnost i efikasnost na merkite predprieti ot natsionalnite i mestnite vlasti za borba sreshtu osnovnite iztochnitsi na zamarsyavane na atmosferniya vazduh v golemite gradove” za perioda ot 01.01.2014 g. [The audited document for the final emission audit "Effectiveness and efficiency of national and local government brands in the fight against the main sources of air pollution in large cities" for the period of 31.12.2016 g.] https://www.bulnao.government.bg/media/documents/od-vazduh-130718_S6viu4z.pdf.

Stolichen obshtinski savet. (2015). Programa za upravlenie na kachestvoto na atmosfernia vazduh na Stolichna obshtina za perioda 2015 – 2020 godina [Ambient air quality management program of the Metropolitan Municipality for the period 2015-2020]. https://www.sofia.bg/documents/20121/345931/%D0%9F%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B3%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BC%D0%B0-%D0%9A%D0%90%D0%92-2015-2020.pdf/c45352de-dea8-d431-697b-dfee08ec8d51

Spasi Sofia. (2018). Spasi Sofia [Save Sofia]. http://spasisofia.org/en/what-we-do.

Vidal, J. & Helm, T. (2016, January 16). ‘Shock figures reveal deadly toll of global air pollution’. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/16/world-heslth-organisation-figures-deadly-pollution-levels-world-biggest-cities.

Vizia za Sofia. (2017). Doklad po napravlenie Okolna sreda [Report on Environment]. https://vizia.sofia.bg/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/%D0%94%D0%BE%D0%BA%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B4_%D0%9E%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D1%81%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%B0.pdf

Wakefield, M., Loken, B. and Hornik, R. (2010). Use of mass media campaigns to change health behavior. The Lancet, 376 (9748), 1261–1271. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)60809-4.

Wang, M., Liu, F., & Zheng, M. (2020, November 9). Air quality improvement from COVID-19 lockdown: evidence from China. Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, 14(4), 591–604.


Wong, M., Bejarano, E., Carvlin, G., Fellows, K., King, G., Lugo, H., Jerrett, M., Meltzer, D., Northcross, A., Olmedo, L., Seto, E., Wilkie, A. & English, P. (2018). Combining community engagement and scientific approaches in next-generation monitor siting: The case of the imperial county community air network. Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(3). doi:10.3390/ijerph15030523

Xu, J. (2014). Communicating the right to know: Social media in the Do-It-Yourself air quality testing campaign in Chinese cities. International Journal of Communication, 8, 1374–1393. http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/2413/1138.

Yearley, S. (2006). Bridging the science-policy divide in urban air-quality management: Evaluating ways to make models more robust through public engagement. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space. 24 (5), 701 – 714. https://doi.org/10.1068/c0610j.

Yin, R. (2009). Case Study Research: Design and Methods. (4th ed.). Sage Publications.

Za zemiata. (2023). Za nas [For us]. https://www.zazemiata.org/about/

How to Cite
Cherneva , M. (2023). Engagement of Local Government in Bulgaria with Air Pollution: The Role of Media and Civil Society in Sofia. Postmodernism Problems, 13(3), 365-383. https://doi.org/10.46324/PMP2303365