Sunday, April 30, 2017
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Environmental Pollution in Poland

sudetyIn previous Baba Jaga's contribution: Save our Planet, I talked about a need to reduce the consumption of goods. I gave a positive example of Poland since we did not consume that much as people in US do. To counterbalance this positive image of Poland and Eastern Europe lets talk about environmental pollution in the article below.

How many of you know that the worst polluted part of Europe is so called black triangle between Southwestern Poland, Eastern Germany (Eastern Saxony) and Czech Republic (Northern Bohemia)? This area is shaped by the range of mountains, among them so called Giant Mountains (Karkonosze) of Sudeten chain. The mountains form a wind barrier which creates unfavorable conditions for the dispersion of pollution from three industrial centers, mainly brown coal mining. The mountains in the center of the triangle were affected by the acid rain from these industrial centers. It is estimated that 50% of the coniferous forest there disappeared between 1972 and 1989. Since 1991 all three countries of this region try to work together to alleviate this environmental disaster. The photo on the right shows a part of Sudeten forest which is distressed by pollution.

In the late eighties I was on the trip in Sudeten. I was unaware how bad the situation was. I remember the first time when I encountered a strange moonlike landscape with leafless trees and twisted silverfish trunks.  It looked amazing but scary, I was shocked. I was in a center of one of the worst natural disasters of XX century!

When I was a child (late 60-es and 70-es), the environmental pollution problems in Poland did not exist, at least officially. Our school books were illustrated with the pictures of the industrial chimneys emitting grey smoke as a proud example of the industrial progress. In that time the industrial development of Poland was measured in the amount of steel produced. A huge steelwork was built in late 40-es & early 50-es in Nowa Huta (literally meaning "New Steel Mill") near Krakow. This steelwork was located there mainly from political reasons, to counterbalance "conservative, anticommunist burgeons" against a newly created industrial blue collar workers. Eventually these workers turned against the communism also....but it was 20-30 years later.

Even bigger steel mill was built in 70-es in Silesia, a very industrial region, about 100 km west from Krakow (so called steelworks Katowice). This investment was never profitable and the decision to build it has been questioned almost since the beginning. It is said that that this investment was pressed upon Poland by Soviet Union, since Poland's iron ores deposits are limited. A special broad gauge railway line adapted to the width of Soviet rail was built in Poland for the fast transport of ores from Soviet Union. Investments like that contributed to the economical crisis in Poland in 80-es.

My family comes from Upper Silesia. This region was a center of black coal mining for centuries. My two grandfathers worked in mining industry. Since Silesia had a very dense and urbanized population the majority of the mining exploration is the underground mining. For instance the house where my mother lived is located on the surface above a coal mine "Wujek" in Katowice. By the way mine "Wujek" became a symbol of Solidarity resistance during martial law. Several miners died in the consequence of their strike after military law was imposed in December 1981.

In order to reach coal from deeper, unaccessible deposits, the blast mining was used. In the late 70-es and the early 80-es the coal exploration became so intense that it caused local earthquakes. I remember shaking of the floor, trembling of the glass daily - as a result of the mining explosions or maybe... a collapse of the mining shafts in my family house. The mining accidents and the shafts collapses were quite frequent but the public was only informed about the more serious accidents, with the human victims involved.

The landslides and the artificially induced "mining" earthquakes had a devastating effect on housing. Many Silesian regions and towns (for instance Bytom) were completely devastated by the mining industry. The house where my family lived was also damaged. The mines paid for some repairs but the repairs were not sufficient.

Silesian people are very hard-working and disciplined people. Since it was impossible to keep anything white in the center of black coal industry, the houses are painted in off-white colors. Typical industrial districts were built from red brick (see the photo from Nikiszowiec, Katowice's district). The window frames in Silesia's houses are painted either red or green, to keep it clean. But, I never saw such clean windows like in Silesia! Women there used to clean their windows at least once a month. The windows is Silesia are cleaner than anywhere else in Poland in spite of the pollution around.

Ironically, a serious economical and political crisis of 80-es helped to alleviate the worst environmental problems in Poland. Several plants and mines had to slow its production, some were closed due to the environmental concerns and due to its obsolete technology. People became more aware of the environmental problems around us, mass media were more open to discuss it. For instance a big aluminum plant in Skawina near Krakow was closed as well as many black coal mines in Upper Silesia and almost all brown coal mines in Lower Silesia. This brought many other problems - like a huge unemployment in these regions, but at least people could breathe with the air of better quality!

The situation in Northern Poland, especially in lake area of Mazuria is quite different. This region was never industrially developed (except few towns). I remember drinking water from lakes in Mazuria. It would be impossible to drink water from any of the rivers or lakes in Southern Poland (the rivers usually stink and they do not have even fish in, except the mountain springs of Southeastern Poland and the rivers which are close to their sources where no any industrial plant was able to pollute it yet.

Copyrights Baba Jaga Corner

This article was published in the complete paper edition of Polish-American Journal, you may subscribe to it here

Travel Guide PolandI recommend the guidebook entitled: The Rough Guide to Poland
written by Mark Salter, Jonathan Bousfield. It contains the  extensive information about the history and culture of each region and town in Poland.
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