GB No. 2, summer 1990


Cracow always played main role in the history of Poland. Through the ages it was the capital of our country, the royal abode and the seat of central authorities. Moreover, Cracow witnessed to many historical events, lasting remains of which are to be found at every step.

The older part of our city forms one, great National Museum, comprising more than 1000 monuments and monumental groups. Not in vain Cracow belongs to few objects counted into all - Polish cultural heritage of "0" class. Extraordinarily valuable collection of art is gathered here, which number equals approximately to 500 000.

Furthermore, Cracow was and is the seat of the oldest Central European universities. Besides the Jagiellonian University, other high schools are situated in our city, like the sole Polish Academy of Mining and Metallurgy, Medical Academy, Agricultural Academy, Engineering College, Academy of Economics, Theatrical College, High School of Music, Academy of Fine Arts, Academy of Physical Education and more than 20 R & D institutes, not counting other, more or less important educational institutions. Cracow is therefore - to sum up briefly - a historical city, wealthy in numerous monuments of art and culture, and a scientific centre, held in esteem in our country and abroad.

Cracow's extremely disadvantageous geographical location to a high degree influences its microclimate and general ecological situation. St. Bronisława Hills together with Tenczyn Bank form a kind of barrier, shielding major part of our city from the western side, which is the line of the most frequently blowing winds. Other hills, surrounding Cracow, form a syncline, in which the city suffocates in its own fumes, remaining with almost no draught. To mention but a few, there are the Bielany, Bodzów, Pasternik and the Borek Fałęcki Eminences. From its western side Cracow adjoins the Upper Silesian Industrial Region, the biggest industrial centre of Poland. The works of Upper Silesia emit thousands of tones of gases and dust, that subsequently go in the direction of Cracow. The more the emission is, the easier they force their way through the barrier of hills, dropping then gradually or being rinsed by rainfall. Even pollution produced in distant regions of Europe reach Cracow.

Cracow's disastrous topography and huge, excessive industrial development and population growth led to the rice of very specific, unfavorable microclimate, characterized by large cloudiness (68- 70% yearly) and high moisture, accompanied by the above mentioned lack of wind. Meteorologists note down on an average 90 misty days a year. It is to be stressed, that those mists should be rather characterized as a toxic smog, saturated with gas and dust. Inversions of temperature is exceptionally frequent - 185 days within a year - that only worsens the microclimate. There is a sort of thermal cap, floating over Cracow and denying the possibility of fumes dis-A charge.

Dusts drifting in the air, filter the solar radiation, cutting off its short - wave, ultraviolet part of spectrum. The deficit of this radiation amounts to about 20%. Disinfecting proprieties of ultraviolet are to be emphasized here.

Hence, the Cracow's air contains increased amount of detrimental microorganisms, mould sporules among others. The high moisture is to some extend related to the excessive vaporization. In the Vistula River, into which the excess of heat, together with industrial sewage, are carried away in the amount of 800 Gcal (10 cal) per hour.

The medieval system of the central part of the city does not fit motor transport. The narrow streets are additionally polluted with car exhaust. The situation is worsened by separate coal fired stoves, used for warming up buildings. Their number amounts to about 250 000.

In the post-war period Cracow developed its industry. The prior investment has been Nowa Huta Steelworks, the most important, yet the most harmful industrial object for the city. For 25 years similarly harmful had been Skawina Aluminium Works, before it was closed in 1981. The pollution is furthermore produced by 2 newly built heat and power generating plants in Erg and Skawina, Soda Works "Sol-A vay" and "Bonarka" Chemical Works. To mention some smaller ones: Pleszów Cement Plant, "Armatura", "Polfa" and others. Industrial development was followed by population growth - the number of inhabitants increased from 300 000 in 1945 to nearly 800 000 in 1986. In result, the lack of drinking water and surcharge of sewage system occurred. The ecologically permissible threshold of development for Cracow has been crossed.

No wonder, that in the early 80-ies a state of ecological disaster was announced in our country for Upper Silesian Industrial Region, Legnica Głogów Copper Region, Gdańsk Gulf and Cracow.

Which factors indicate the state?


Fumes of Cracow's industry and flowing in neighbouring regions together with heavy traffic caused the situation, when in the air excessive (i. e. many times surpassing the standards) amounts of toxic gases are to be found, like sulphur, nitrogen and carbon oxides, fluorine compounds and hardly carcinogenic multiring aromatic hydrocarbons. Sulphur and nitrogen oxides heavily acidify the atmosphere, devastating plants, constructional substance and human health as well. It has been calculated that sulphur oxides, emitted to Cracow's atmosphere would be enough for producing 40 tones of sulphur acid every hour.

Hundreds and thousands of dust, floating over Cracow, cover up the city. Still, it is not only the dirt, that counts. The dust contains inadmissible amount of the compounds of heavy metals, especially lead, cadmium and zinc.


Though the province of Cracow is densely built over, some free land is cultivated or intended for allotment. For many years the soils have been covered up with contaminated dust. Contaminated soils yield contaminated crops, that obtain additional dose of currently dropping toxic substances. Since 1982 monitoring of chosen contaminated cultures has been conducted in Cracow, i. e. of lettuce, carrot (leaves and root), cabbage, celery (leaves and root), parsley and beetroot, as well as of grass, pine needles and oak leaves.

The matter of research is copper, zinc, lead, cadmium, chromium and nickel content. The above-mentioned monitoring provided with the results, that do have to fill us with anxiety and concern. It has been confirmed, that metal content in the examined samples on principle exceeds to a high degree the admissible standards - from several to tens of times. So far as copper and zinc are concerned, there is no call for alarm yet, for both are physiological elements and the tolerance of constitution is relatively high here. The most dangerous is the exceeded standard of cadmium content, which element is decidedly toxic.

According to toxicologists, cadmium compounds are far more dangerous than the ones of arsenic. The examined samples contained also increased amount of lead and - surprisingly enough - of nickel. The last one is supposed to be cancerigenic. A suspicion arises, that it can be found in energetistic raw materials, like mazut for example. Exceptionally high content of cadmium compounds in Cracow's environment has already been announced by the Puławy Institute. Their concentration has been observed in the milk of nursing women. Supposably, the source of cadmium contamination in our city are Silesian zinc works, for its higher level has been observed from western and north western side. Cadmium always accompanies zinc ores and its easy volatility is conductive to liberation during the process of thermal metallurgic treatment of the ores.

Taking under consideration metal content in vegetables of our region, their further cultivation becomes doubtful, especially that of lettuce, which already does not suit consumption.


Studies conclude, that 90% of superficial waters in our region do not belong to any of the existing clearness classification. They simply fit neither for drinking nor industrial purposes. It refers to the Vistula River as a whole. Waterworks of Cracow use the Rudawa, Raba, Dubnia, Sanka, Vistula, Skawinka and Szreniawa Rivers. Clearness of drinking water differs from one district of Cracow to another, for it is impossible to use one, common water intake. The pollution of the Vistula River is without any doubt the worst. It is contaminated with phenols, pesticides, detergents, hydrocarbons etc. The drinking water deficit is very considerable. Still, it should be noted here, that the share of municipal economy is 10.8% only, while the one of industry reaches up to 88% of the water. High salinity of the Vistula River should be stressed as well, the reason of which are the Silesian coal mines. Thousands of tones of sodium chloride from the Vistula exert their unfavourable influence on the water biocenosis and human system are in a particular danger.


Studies on the ecology of Cracow stress the high level of the street noise. The registered, lasting noise, mainly that of communication origin, in so called "the 1st surrounding" enclosing the Planty Park, in the Avenue of the Three Great Poets and in the streets leading to the central part of Cracow ("Centrum") varied from 70 to 90 decibels, while the upper admis-A sible level of noise should not exceed 60 decibels (precisely between 45 and 60). And in the busiest regions of Cracow the noise level surpassed 100 decibels. Noise pollution is regarded as a sort of harmful stress, distinctly influencing salubrity of the population. Besides the noise, high level of quavers occurs, also of communication origin, that cause cracking and devastation of buildings.

Motor traffic is arduous for Cracow not only because of its noise and exhaust. It is more and more difficult for passer-bies to move around the Old Town. Cars occupy narrow sidewalks and despite one-way traffic, there is enormous lack of room in this part of the city.

The authorities of Cracow have to cope with utility refuse. Industry produces yearly about 90 million tones of of them and those of municipal origin amount to 1 million m . So far as industrial utility refuse is concer-A ned, 8%, i. e. over 7 million tones, of the total are toxic substances, which have various influence on the environment. To sum up this part of the report:

  1. the province of Cracow occupies 1% of Poland,
  2. this area is inhabited by 3.25% of the whole population of our country,
  3. it gives 3.8% of total Poland's production, emitting:

The above data show that Cracow is very important in Polish economy, and must exert its influence on the health of the inhabitants. It is impossible, however, to conduct objective, yet complete, estimation of the ecological threat and its consequences. The subsistence of so called: "distant effects of chemical substances" is generally accepted. Those canaerigenic ones, for instance, bring about the final effect after 10- 15 or ever 30 years time. Is there anyone, who, after such a long time will link one's disease with an unfamiliar substance? Mutagenic compounds affect later generations. Others are responsible for births of lame, physically and/or mentally handicapped children. It is difficult to link the acting of certain substances with their later effects. Nowadays clinical physicians pay attention to direct threat of health, which comprise:

1. Breathing system.
The registered absence from work in Cracow is 30% higher in relation to country's average (children are excluded because of their common catarrhs). The threat of breathing system is caused mainly by aggressive gases from the atmosphere (sulphur and nitrogen oxides) and by irritating dusts.

2. Circulatory system.
The registered absence from work is 50% higher in in relation to the country's average. The studies of Polish Academy of Science have shown, that 25% of the adults from the most threatened circle suffer from arterial hypertension. Cases of coronary disease and infect exceed the average of about 50-100%.

3. There are numerous cases of illnesses on the background of allergy - the disease of our epoch.

4. The inhabitants of Cracow complain of "rheumatic" sicknesses, such like joint pains of various etiology linked with the environment of the city.

5. Throughout last decades the number of tumorous diseases increased - especially of cancer of the lungs, larynx and stomach, together with leukaemia.

6. Considerable growth of centric nervous system diseases has been noted down. A long list of neuroses could be mentioned here (also harassing children not only from the first year of primary school, but from kindergartens as well). Some studies attribute many of neuroses to toxic effect of lead compounds, emitted by motor vehicles.

This brief report has not been meant to create excitement, though it may do so. An information is at stake, a widespread information, that should call up for action, or rather counteraction. For the threat is general. It will not spare even those, who are directly or indirectly responsible. But they have to learn about it. And our task is to convince them.

prof. Jan Markiewicz

The above article is the text of the lecture given by prof. Markiewicz during the meeting "Students for the Environment" in Kraków, April 1988.

GB No. 2, summer 1990 | Contents