GB No. 1(16)/95


At first, there are difficulties in breathing and skin becomes livid. These are first signs that a baby has been poisoned by nitrates. It occurs not only after serving early vegetables but after drinking even the healthiest milk cocktail based on the water which flows from our taps.

Disastrous negligence in water economy upset ecologists, epidemiologists, Flood Control Committees activists and Sanepid (Sanitary Inspection) officials. In 1967 only 31.6% of water resources in Poland was in the first purity class and only this water is fit for drinking without boiling. In 1979 the percentage was barely 9.8% and since 1992 no river stretch in Poland has been put into this category. There are more river stretches where all pollution limits have been exceeded - over 33% is not fit for drinking after boiling for a long time and salinized water, which quickens metal corrosion, is unfit even for industry. Lakes are polluted, too. 60% of greater lakes are not in any purity class and water degradation is seen clearly. These surface water intakes - rivers and lakes - provide over 50% of Polish people with water. Ground water resources, which can be found in some towns, are quickly running out.

AN AVERAGE POLE USES UP THREE TIMES AS MUCH WATER AS A WEST-EUROPEAN, and the water consumption coefficient in Polish industry is one of the highest in Europe while there are still no efficient mechanisms of resources protection. In the last 30 years groundwater level has decreased by over 2 meters. The nature has been "improved" by intensive soil drainage, which has been managed centrally, straightening river bends, liquidation of small artificial reservoirs and mills. The result is that water flows to the sea more quickly and it causes permanent surface water shortage on over 33% of Poland's area. The water shortage in Silesia is 300, 000 cubic meters a day. The less water, the higher concentration of pollutants is in it.

This summer it was reported that the Ner river, which flows through ŁódĽ, contained less than 10% water. The rest was sewage and the river has caught fire several times lately. These days the manager of Urban Water Main and Sewarage in Warsaw is warning that low water level in Vistula will influence the quality of water in our taps.

The most endangered towns lie by Vistula and Odra. These rivers have no first class purity water and only 5.4% of water in Vistula, just in its source area, is fit for drinking after boiling as belonging to the second water purity class. Vistula is still "the sewage for Silesia" and 70% of its chlorides and sulphides comes from only four mines, including recently built "Czeczot". There is no efficient investment for reducing water salinization in Vistula basin and not only mines pollute the river.

Warsaw doctors say that drinking water from Varsovian water main is not a good idea. Children should not be given it at all or at least after boiling it for 5 minutes or treating it by means of carbon filters. However, its quality will be still lower than that of the water from Oligocene sources.


A very alarming fact is that improper water treatment often increases cancerogenic chlorine compounds content. The only solution Is to replace chlorination by expensive ozonization, which is impossible to carry out because of lack of money.

As many as 400 large plants do not have treatment works and what the other plants have is often not sufficient. However, the main source of pollution is not industry (because of recession) but towns, which discharge three times more untreated waste to rivers. 30.2% waste is not treated in any way, which is a curiosity in Europe, and 35.3% is only pre-treated mechanically.

Nitrogen and phosphorus removal is only a dream. From 720 towns, which have sewage system, as many as 338 have not started any sewage treatment plant. Among them are such big cities as Łódż, Koszalin and Szczecin.

Water is polluted dangerously even in small towns and villages by nitrates and pesticides. It is paradoxical that we construct water mains without providing sewage reception systems. Constructing a water main which increases water consumption 3 - 9 times is still considered to be a success while the waste is carried to soil. Research made by SANEPID (Sanitary -Epidemiological Station) comprised 9, 646 village wells and proved that in some regions 8090% of water intakes provides water, which is dangerous for health. Apart from nitrates, pesticides and heavy metals, some disease-causing bacteria of dysentery, hepatitis and other infectious diseases were discovered too.

The water is beyond limits, which are defined for both people and animals, especially in Leszczyńskie Voivodship (84.2% wells), Wrocławskie Voivodship (78%) and Kaliskie Voivodship (72%).

Thanks to determination of local governments construction of succeeding treatment plants is started every year. Districts carry on 40% of ecological investments. The problem is that their orders are seized by swindlers instead of specialists. When an installation is finished it most often does not have biological sewage treatment appliances (the "Wschód" treatment plant in Gdańsk has been labelled "Three Wasted Years". Some of constructions are being started although they will never be finished because there is no supervision and cost of the project and designers' fees have been derived from final price. No wonder that the gigantic treatment plant in Wolin was to process 18, 000 cubic meters of sewage a day. Its construction started in the 70s but now it turns out that Wolin and 17 other towns need a 6 times smaller throughput. Drinking water standard in Poland, which is a curiosity in Europe, takes only 44 criteria of liquid quality into account whereas EU regulations include 62 criteria and WHO notices require 100 criteria. On the other hand, the Polish standard is "real" - laboratories which conduct proficient tests of the liquid which is supplied to our homes often do not have equipment capable of detecting hazardous substances in water.

What is more, measurement results refer to annual average water flow, which, additionally, falsifies the reality (for more than a half of the year water level is higher and so is sewage effluent dilution, which results in more optimistic data).

No wonder that the water "within limits" smells, looks and tastes bad and may be dangerous for health. Even Polish, liberal standards are more and more often exceeded. When water leaves a treatment plant it still contains too much chlorine, ammonia, chloroform, aluminum and mesophilous bacteria.

Toxic substances research, ordered by Komitet Badań Naukowych (KBN -the Scientific Research Committee), has been conducted in water which supplies water mains in Warsaw by Instytut Meteorologii i Gospodarki Wodnej (IMGW - Meteorology And Water Economy Institute). It has proved that in the water in Varsovian homes there are 31 toxic substances including phenols, pesticides, chlorinated biphenyls and benzenes, which do not occur in nature.

The interesting thing is that Polish people seem to have got used to bad drinking water quality and take it for granted that the reasons are lack of money, investment decline and general decline. In this situation a system which would impose taking notice of the price of water, introducing closed cycle in production plants and efficient economical and law mechanisms is a matter of the future.

Eryk Mistewicz
reprinted from Wprost, 7th August, 1994

GB No. 1(16)/95 | Contents