GB No. 12, winter 1994


The salt content in the Wisła River has increased fifty times during this half of the century, and salt is an enemy of industry. It speeds up corrosion dramatically.

It is not true that the Wisła River at the foot of Wawel Hill is more salty than the water in the Baltic Sea. The chloride content in one liter of water from the Gulf of Finland or from the Gulf of Bothnia reaches 5 g, while in water from the Wisła River in Kraków it does not exceed 1.6 g. The comparison with the sea, although favourable for the Wisła river, is not very optimistic. The losses caused by the excessive salt concentration in the Wisła River are estimated -- according to different sources -- at 100-280 million dollars per year.

The dirty, salty Wisła River has became almost useless for municipal use. Some say that this would persist even if the river were to be isolated from its environment and the discharging of sewage and salty water stopped. Large amounts of contaminants, including thousands of tons of heavy metals, covering the river bottom have finally deprived the Polish people of the largest river in their country.

The salt in the Wisła River is an enemy of industry. It dramatically speeds up corrosion, which is eating up industrial installations.

The electric power plant in Leg draws 1300-1400 tons of Wisła river water per hour in the summer, to make up for the losses in cooling installations. Due to the salt content in the water, says the main engineer of the Leg power plant, Marian Augustyn, they have to replace the condensors' pipes two times more often than under normal conditions. The cost of such an operation is about 8 billion zlotys. The huge pipelines for cooling water corrode five times faster than they should. The Leg power plant spends 3 billion zlotys annually on special chemicals to protect from corrosion.

The situation is similar in the T. Sendzimir steelworks, where salt from the Wisła River has a serious effect on the quality of the steel being produced. Chlorides, which are pressed into the sheet iron during the cold-rolling process, sooner or later appear on the surface as rust, penetrating through the best varnish. At one time there were plans to produce water by purifying the municipal sewage in order to protect the steelworks.

The salt content in the water of the Wisła River has increased fifty times during this half of the century. The main reason for this is the development of coal mining, by exploiting deeper and deeper layers of coal located between rocks impregnated with salt. As much as 70% of the chlorides being discharged into the Wisła River between upper Silesia and Warsaw comes from four coal mines: PIAST, CZECZOTT, ZIEMOWIT, and WESOŁA. While pumping millions of cubic meters of salty water into the river, these coal mines produce about 15% of the coal being mined in Poland. Last year it amounted to 19 million tons.

The necessity of saving the Wisła River, or rather of saving the industries located along it, has been discussed for many years. There were plans to transport the salty waters using a system of pipelines and reservoirs. The radicals wanted to transport the salty water directly to the Baltic sea. The pragmatists wanted to transport it to the neighbourhood of the town of Zawichost, and discharge it into the Wisła River there, where it is large enough to dilute the salty water. For the minimalists, who were worried mostly about the fate of the power plants in Skawina and Łęg, as well as about the fate of the Kraków steelworks, transporting salty waters with a pipeline just below Kraków seemed enough.

The first experimental desalination plant has been in operation in the DĘBIEŃSKO coal mine, located within the catchment of the Oder River, since the mid-seventies. Once very modern, it has become outdated. The technology being used in DĘBIEŃSKO consumes too much energy, which has provided a strong argument for the supporters of the above-mentioned hydrotechnical method.

The problem has recently begun to attract attention again. Four coal mines (PIAST, CZECZOTT, ZIEMOWIT and WESOŁA) have established a specialist company called EKOSOL. Foreign firms have also gotten interested in the problem of utilizing the salty waters being discharged into the Wisła River. The installation DĘBIEŃSKO II is now being built by Swedes, based upon the most up-to-date technology of the American firm RCC.

The Japanese from the Japan Consulting Institute -- using their own funds -- prepared a study, which became the foundation for asking for very profitable credit guaranteed by the government. Because the government in Tokyo tends to be very restrained in terms of financing projects in post-communist Europe, negotiations with local banks have been started.

At the same time, upper Silesia was visited by experts from the EC, which had allocated 800000 ECU for examining the situation. The appropriate study has been completed by the French firm Organisation et Environment. Americans from Texas promote the method of injecting the salty water into deep layers of rock. In the US, a similar method is being used to get rid of chemical contaminants (and is being strongly protested by environmental groups). Americans want to drill an experimental hole, which will cost about 5-6 million dollars. The Institute of Inorganic Chemistry from Gliwice proposed its own technology for producing mineral fertilizers from the substances dissolved in the coal mine waters. The technology is original and does not produce any waste, but it is expensive and has not been properly examined yet. The Institute of Mining has patented a method of recycling the salty water underground, with only a small part of it being discharged into the rivers.

EKOSOL, says Jan Kazior, the company vice-president, has combined all these different ideas to produce one concise concept. First of all, it stresses the advantages of building one large common installation for all four salt mines represented by the company. Such a plant could utilize each day 32700 cubic meters of the most salty waters coming from the PIAST, CZECZOTT, ZIEMOWIT and WESOŁA coal mines, thus diminishing the salt concentration in Wisła river by 36%. This would mean capturing 2100 tons of chlorides per day. The products of the plant would be 280000 tons of magnesium chloride, 80000 tons of calcium chloride, 1500 tons of bromide, and -- most importantly -- 50000 tons of NaCl, thus effectively doubling the annual production of salt in Poland!

Vice-president Jan Kazior sees opportunities for utilizing such large amounts of salt. The salt mine in K3odawa is dying out, and there are serious problems with salt production in Wieliczka. There are opportunities to export one million tons of salt annually, provided that it is pure enough. It should be. After the collapse of the DDR and the liquidation of the production of magnesium chloride in East Germany, the well-known syndicate Norsk Hydro is interested in buying it from Poland. What cannot be exported or utilized in Poland could be stored in the coal mines.

The concept of EKOSOL envisions combining a few of the best technologies: Japanese, American, Swiss, and French. Among the possible locations of the desalination plant, the most suitable place is definitely the area of the Chemical Plant in Oowiecim, where abandoned buildings and useless grounds are in large supply.

80% of the desalination cost is the cost of energy. Modernization and full utilization of the now only partially-used Oowiecim power plant would therefore be essential for the project. The supply of warm, fresh water provided by the proposed installation would be enough to heat the entire town. It has been determined that the inhabitants of Oświęcim would use one-fifth less detergents if the program is successful.

The atmosphere in the town seems conducive to the program. Józef Tusiński, the main engineer for the development and investment in the Oowiecim Chemical Plant, says that his factory would like to sell the hot steam to the desalination plant, and to buy the salt from it. The local administrative officials also support the program. The Vice President of the town, Kazimierz P3onka, expects the development of the town's infrastructure. The greens, who organized a campaign against the building of the oil refinery in Oowiecim, have not yet protested against the program; however, the so called "social consultations" concerning the project still lie ahead.

The cost of building the desalination plant, considering its optimal location in Oświęcim, has been estimated to be around 282 million dollars. Where to get this kind of money? EKOSOL hopes to get credit from abroad, and hopes that the structural changes in the Polish mining industry will improve the economic standing of the coal mines. The debts could be paid using money made from selling the salt.

It seems that the ideal solution would be to take money from the so called "salt fund," which contains money paid by coal mines as fines for discharging salty water into rivers. In the case of the PIAST coal mine, these fines amount to 27% of the total cost of coal production. For the year 1992, the coal mines PIAST, CZECZOTT, ZIEMOWIT and WESOŁA are supposed to pay almost 1400 billion zlotys to the above mentioned fund. The problem is that, although they must pay, they do not pay because they do not have the money.

Adam Rymont
translation from Dziennik Polski 73/29.3.93

The condition of the environment in Poland has recently improved slightly, mainly due to the economic recession.

GB No. 12, winter 1994 | Contents