GB No. 12, winter 1994


The results of all the surveys of the level of air pollution which have been carried out for many years indicate that Bytom, and especially the district in which the Bobrek Steelworks is situated, is one of the most polluted towns in Silesia. These observations have recently been confirmed by the results of the latest surveys, made with the help of modern monitoring equipment. The Bobrek Steelworks is not the only polluter in the city, but it is the most significant one. This is the reason why the ecological service has intended to remove it from the Bytom landscape.

The Bobrek steelworks is over 130 years old and uses an open-hearth furnace -- a real rarity in Europe. Steel processing is in a state of crisis. The world steel market is very competitive, and it seems only natural that such an old steelworks should be gradually closed down. However, it has turned out to be unexpectedly difficult. According to the voivodeship ecological service, the managers of the steelworks -- who have known what end awaits them for a long time and who have not been able to prepare a realistic and ecologically acceptable plan for restructurisation -- are partly to blame. When the director of the steelworks was asked to present a definite plan for restructurisation during one of the numerous meetings with the voivodeship "ecological policeman" -- that is, the inspecting officer from the Department for the Protection of the Natural Environment -- the management produced a vague letter of intent signed by them and by a German company, saying nothing definite. As it turned out later, the German company was not very reliable, to put it mildly.

The last stages of the battle for clean air in Bytom and, consequently, the fate of the steelworks, began in March, 1989. It was then that the Department for the Protection of the Natural Environment of the Voivodeship Office ordered the steelworks to close down its four most harmful plants: the agglomerating plant, the cokery, the ironmaking plant, and the steel smelting shop. It was decided that an acceptable level of emissions into the atmosphere would be zero. The steelworks had until December, 1990 to do this.

After this, the decision was frequently repealed and then upheld again. As late as May, 1990, the steelworks applied to the Chief Administrative Court to revoke the decision. The decision was repealed in February, 1991. Time passed. The employees of the steelworks protested -- no wonder, since they were fighting for their jobs. They warned the voivodeship sanitary inspector that they were going to organize demonstrations in front of his office, but there have not yet been any definite programmes. In January, 1992, the next deadline for the steelworks to comply with the decision regarding the admissible level of emissions was set, giving the steelworks until the 30th of June, 1993.

Meanwhile, in April, 1992, the voivodeship inspector from the Department for the Protection of the Natural Environment made a decision about the non-compliance penalty for 1991. It amounted to 13.9 billion z3otys. The steelworks, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, was not able to pay the fine, so they asked for a postponement of the payment. Here again they made several appeals, which were all rejected. The sanitary inspector imposed additional fines on them -- over 14 billion z3otys for 1992 alone.

The steelworks, informed that it is possible to make an appeal regarding the zero emissions decision, sent letters to the Ministry for the Protection of the Natural Environment and to Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka. Simultaneously, however, (on the 28th of April) the Chief Inspector of the Department for the Protection of the Natural Environment upheld the zero emissions decision. The steelworks made another appeal. Maybe it was because the attempts of the management seemed so futile that the Committee for the Defense of Jobs was established. It was supported by both members and non-members of labour unions. It was the leaders of this committee who came to the meetings with the director of the Voivodeship Department for the Protection of the Natural Environment which followed. It seemed odd that there were no representatives of the management present, but the members of the Committee did not want to comment. Their discussions with environmentalists were almost exactly the same as the previous ones.

The environmentalists, who at first had not been very strict about the problem of the steelworks, now stressed the irrevocability of the zero emisssions decision. They also said that the only chance for the steelworks was a reliable programme to restructure, so that it could become "palatable" to the environment. It was at this point that definite suggestions appeared for the first time. The workers themselves established companies and suggested that the steelworks start producing smokeless fuel, which would be a real deliverance for Silesia as it would help limit so called low emission. New ideas were put forward. Environmentalists got more and more interested in these ideas, as it seemed that they might be acceptable. Ideas alone, however, are not enough. A definite programme must be put forward. Members of the Committee for the Defence of Jobs said that they would be presenting detailed business plans soon.

By the end of August, 1993, the management of the Bobrek Steelworks is supposed to present a plan aimed at reducing the emission of pollutants to the level mandated by the Department for the Protection of the Natural Environment. This deadline is one of the decisions made at the Ministry of Labour during a meeting concerning the restructurisation of the Bobrek Steelworks. In attendance were the steelworks management and representatives of the labour unions (the National Division of Steel Processing "S" and the Solidarity of the Silesia-D1browa Area), as well as representatives of the government (Micha3 Boni, the Deputy Prime Minister; Kazimierz B3aszczyk, the head of the Department for the Protection of the Natural Environment; and Stanis3aw Padyku3a, the Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade). These parties have discussed the prospective shape, date, and financial resources for the restructurisation of the Bobrek steelworks.

Barbara Cieszewska, Ewa K.Czaczkowska
translation from Rzeczpospolita nr 188, 13.8.93

GB No. 12, winter 1994 | Contents