GB No. 3(18)/95
Kłobuck is a small town several kilometres from Częstochowa. When entering the town you can see a cemetery to the right of the road, fields and meadows lying beyond it and, on the horizon, there is the town district of Smugi with a chimney towering above it. The chimney is a reminder of a great communist enterprise: a boiler-room of a horticulture complex RSP Smugi. At the end of May there appeared handbills in the town entitled The Obviousness:
"On 16th May 1995 in the appendix of the Gazeta Wyborcza for Częstochowa you could read an article devoted to a plastic waste utilisation plant located in Kłobuck. (By the way, a scientist from the Chemistry Department at the Jagiellonian University, having read the article in the Gazeta Wyborcza, thought that it was an All Fools' Day joke!) The article included an opinion of the Nature Conservation Department of the Voivodship Office in Częstochowa, which read: "We have received incomplete documentation of the scheme... It is not known whether industrial utilisation would not be harmful for the environment".
The above information as well as the fact that the German capital is involved in the enterprise made us look into the matter. According to what was written in the Wyborcza, "at the end of May the aldermen of Kłobuck will meet with scientists from the Chemistry Institute at the Silesian University in order to dispel all doubts concerning the process line". This would be all right if not for the fact that in the invitations for the meeting there were names of two scientists, namely Prof. Sułkowski and Mr —muda, PhD. The names are not to be found on a list of the Silesian University's employees. According to the Polish Science Bulletin, vol. 4. Men of Science, p. 562, Prof. Sułkowski is a throat specialist from LódĽ and Mr —muda, having completed a doctoral degree at the Silesian University, left for Germany where he has been living and working ever since (the information was given by his ex-colleagues).
The technology which is to be applied in the waste thermodegradation plant has been described as follows: "during waste processing no by-products that could be harmful for the environment are generated. Plastic is turned into petrol and diesel oil which are pure and devoid of any hazardous compounds". In other words, you can put plastic waste, i.e. bags, old combs, bottles, condoms etc., into something that resembles a potato steamer (as shows a photo in the Wyborcza) and you will receive fuel. A private opinion of our friends working in the Chemistry Department at the Jagiellonian University is that if the above revelation is true the Town Council of Kłobuck may file for Nobel Prize because all thermo-utilisation methods known so far lead to generation of poisonous compounds, such as dioxins that damage the genetic code, furanes and carcinogenic cyclic compounds. The fact is mentioned by the Gazeta Wyborcza, but not in straightforward way however: "Examinations conducted so far have indicated neither negative impact on the environment nor excessive emission". They write "excessive" so there is some emission. If the "steamer" processes about 50 kg of waste per hour, which means about a ton daily, and emission occurs, we have to pose a question how much waste the company "Oktan" is going to process after having put the whole great plant in Smugi in operation? And how large the emission will be then? Whenever you heat plastic waste vapours of heavy metals, such as cadmium or chromium which are added as pigments or stabilisers, are released. They are of no use for petrol or diesel oil production so the company "Oktan" will have to dispose of them somehow.
Emission of the compounds is so hazardous that after a breakdown in the BASF works in Ludwigshafen, Germany, in 1953, buildings contaminated with the chemicals were demolished because it was impossible to get rid of the pollution by washing, painting nor hammering plaster off the walls. Similar events happened in other countries. In the Italian town of Seveso, in 1976, several hundred people suffered from allergy, skin diseases, liver damages, fertility disorders, etc. 35 thousand of farm animals had to be killed and their flesh was inedible. Also, the surface film of ground had to be scrapped away because, as it was so poisoned that it could not be cultivated. Therefore, in the West the latest scientific research is focused not on thermoneutralisation of plastics but on their low-temperature chemical utilisation.
There is another question, however: we have seen containers of plastic waste imported from Germany (so the company "Oktan" buys the precious raw material there and transports it over a thousand of kilometres to Kłobuck). But we could not notice cisterns with the obtained fuel anywhere. We think that the petrol and oil produced there are so pure that you cannot see or smell them. As the pilot plant has been operational since September (with permission of the Area Management and Nature Conservation Commission) we can assume that it managed to process about 200 tons of waste and there must be some traces of its functioning.
Now we are wondering whether the fact that "the method unique in the world " (as the Wyborcza puts it) has been located in Kłobuck is a blessing or a lethal curse for the town. And whether the aldermen will do a noble deed of employing people and disposing of the waste or sin against the seventh commandment, "Do not kill".
"We want to free our region from the numerous garbage heaps growing haphazardly everywhere." said Mr Perz to the Gazeta Wyborcza. We also want to live in a clean and beautiful country but we are not sure if the best solution is importing waste from Germany. The garbage heaps may disappear but at expense of growing disease and death rate among the Kłobuck residents. If Germans are cautious enough not to build similar installations in their own country and send Mr —muda here to convince us about the benefits of plastic waste utilisation, you can certainly smell a rat here. It will end like the Second World War: we were happy that we won it but what we really gained was 50 years of communist regime. Germans lost the war and they are rich now. In the case of plastic and petrol the end may be similar: Germans will preserve their country clean and healthy. We will be happy that we have new jobs and we will suffer from cancer and enjoy having three-armed children.
The results of locating the plastic processing plant in Kłobuck concern not only residents of the Smugi district but also whole the town and the neighbouring villages. Checking where the wind is blowing from and if not from Smugi will not help. Examinations of the hazardous compounds are so expensive (DM 300-500 for a sample) that even in Germany and Austria they are not done everyday.
So far only several dozens of signatures have been collected under a petition against location of the plant, most of people who signed it are from Smugi. The paper of the local self-government the Z Ziemi Kłobuckiej remains silent as far as the problem is concerned. Similarly, the Mayor Andrzej Wójcicki in his report about the state of the town, chapter Directions of Development of the Kłobuck Region in the Coming Years, which was written six months after the pilot plant was put into operation, did not even mention the initiative so profitable for the town.
The meeting of the Town Council during which the location of the plant in Kłobuck is to be discussed, is planned for 1st June (the Children's Day, by the way) at 1 p.m. To prevent the aldermen from committing a serious mistake we need lots of signatures under the petition, active participation of the residents, repealing the Council's decision by higher authorities if necessary, a referendum regarding the location or dismissal of the Council. Discuss the issue with your neighbours and try to learn as much about the emission as you can. Whoever does not believe us, put a piece of plastic on a frying pan and check how it smells !"
This was the text of the handbill.
A group of people close to the protest committee persuaded fellow-citizens to sign the petition and distribute informative materials on environmental protection. Almost all the Town Council seemed to be delighted with the perspective of the great enterprise. A day before the meeting of the Council, members of the protest committee thought that their action was bound to fail. Feeling helpless, groups of residents attacked the plant in Smugi breaking window panes in the building. And suddenly other people started to act.
On 1st June the citizens started sending in letters of protest, at first individually, later in groups: schools and kindergartens, the hospital staff, local businessmen and their employees. Now it is hard to estimate the number of signatures under the petition: it was a thousand at least and some optimists speak of four or five thousands even. A crowd gathered In front of the Town Council's seat. The students of a secondary school came with banners, uniformed scouts came in gas-masks, hundreds of people: physicians, teachers, businessmen and pensioners filled the aula of the Town Council. The aldermen called the police who simply entered the meeting and watched the discussion.
The representatives of the firms interested in plastic processing were forced to explain explicitly what amount of waste they planned to process in the plant.. Their answers fluctuated from 80 to 200 thousand tons while the report GRB 7325/II/D/94 from 21st October 1994 included information that the company "Oktan" planned to import over 400 thousand tons from Germany only. Moreover, on 1st June an "investor" from Belgium came to Kłobuck to sign a contract for waste transport but he gave up when he saw what was going on. Also, the representatives had to describe the technology in question but this was quickly interrupted. Namely, one of the protesters asked Mr —muda a few questions checking his knowledge about plastics, using a collection of plastic bottles which he brought with himself. Having heard the statement "you don't understand it, doctor, let me explain it to you..." —muda PhD left the aula deeply offended, adding that Kłobuck is a philistine town.
The aldermen, under pressure of the unexpected audience voted against locating the plant in Kłobuck unanimously and ordered an investigation to find who was the most responsible for the pilot plant functioning for six months in the centre of the town. Even those of the aldermen who had so far stubbornly claimed that the emission from the plant was utterly harmless now voted against the scheme.
After the crowd left the Town Council regained its courage and the aldermen who had formerly supported the scheme decided to punish the protesting youth for graffiti put on the pavement and made them wash it off.
The protest committee, not needed any more, discussed the economy, environment and politics in the pub "Luz" till the witching hour.
translated by Małgorzata Maciejewska
reprinted from the Zielone Brygady 7/95