GB No. 4, spring 1991


The natural environment is very much endangered in Poland. It is estimated to be one of the most endangered in Europe, which means also in the world. This estimate is based on the analysis of satellite pictures, data of the Statistical Main Office and also of the Environmental Protection Office.

Degradation of the natural environment has been worsening since the 1950s, especially degradation of the air, water and soil. This fast process is caused by prompt industrialization and urbanization which were developed after last war. Poland as a member of "communistic" system did not benefit from the Marshall plan aid. Each socialistic country had to develop its economy by itself and with the help of the Soviet Union. In order to catch up with capitalistic countries in our economy, military potential and standard of life we built heavy industry. No one was aware of the natural environment's pollution then.

Let's consider the elements of the environment.


The main source of satisfying the need for water is surface water. It is 86% pure. The purity of this water has been getting worse whereas the high quality water, ie. first class, drinking water has been vanishing. In 1967 32% of the length of the Polish rivers was first class. In 1985, it was only 7% of the length of rivers. In truth, however, the volume of first class water is several times less, because our rivers are clean only in spring. The volume is relatively small then.

Waters in Poland are divided into 3 categories, according to our stan- dards. I class is drinkable and III class is the worst one. If we take into consideration the longest Polish rivers it will turn out that:

WISŁA, 1047 km long
(the longest river in Poland);

I class................0%
II class...............0%
III class.............44%
out of all categories 56%

It is so polluted that there is no water in the I or II class and more than a half is morepolluted than the III class water.

ODER, 742 km long (in Poland);

I class................0%
II class..............10%
III class.............36%
out of all categories 54%

WARTA, 808 km long;

I class................0%
II class...............3%
III class.............28%
out of all categories 69%

BUG, 587 km long (in Poland);

I class................0%
II class...............0%
III class.............19%
out of all categories 81%

We have also some special rivers.

Here they are:

NER (128 km long),
KRZNA (120 km long),
BZURA (166 km long) -
100% out of all categories.

This situation is caused by the growth of uncleaned sewage - only 50% of communal sewage and 35% of industrial ones are cleaned. Unfortunately, most of this sewage is cleaned in a mechanical way which relies upon the biological or chemical one. The average efficiency of cleaning is less than 40%.

There are 812 cities in Poland and only 50% of them have purification plants. There are 176 mechanical ones and 233 biological ones. But two biggest Polish cities - Warszawa which is inhabited by 1 mln 600 th and ŁódĽ with 1 mln inhabitants don't have purification plants at all.

The water in the Wisła river in Kraków is, of course, outside all categories. For example the concentration of NaCl (salt) can exceedceed 1000 mg/l - higher than in the Baltic Sea. The water is so polluted that it cannot be used in industry without prior cleaning or diluting (mixing with clean water).

Till 1986 this water was taken into the pipes. It was mixed with water from other, clean sources and used for drinking. Now no water is taken from Wisła - it comes mainly from the Raba river which flows about 50 km out of Kraków.

The pipelines bringing water to Upper Silesia from different parts of the country are several hundred km long.


The emission of dust pollution has been somewhat limited by using dust cleaning equipment. We will deal here with the serious problem of gas emission. Emissions are still increasing. In 1975 this emission was 2.1 mln tons (excluding CO), in 1980 5 mln tons including 3 mln tons of SO2. Now the emission of SO2 amounts to 4 mln tons and in 1995 it is expected to be 6 mln tons if no measures to reduce the emissions are taken. The fall-out in Southern and Western Poland is higher than emissions because of emissions drifting in mainly from Czecho-Slovakia and Germany.

If we compare this emitted conta- mination to the country's land area then standards are not surpassed. But effects of this pollution are visible when we consider the health of population, degradation of woods and soils, corrosion of buildings, etc.

The most polluted region in Poland - we call it "the area of the ecological disaster" - is the Upper Silesia and Kraków region. It covers only 3% of the whole surface of Poland but it deals with 50% of all gas emissions and 40% of all dust emission. This area is inhabited by 4.5 mln people - 12.5% of the whole population. It is a very industrial area, and the numbers make it evident;

98% of coal is excavated here,
100% of zinc and lead ore,
40% of coke is produced,
40% of electric energy,
75% of steel.

The total emission of gases and dust amounts to 400 tons per square km per year, whereas for the whole Poland is 21 tons per square km. The most dangerous of the exhausted gases, because of its quantity, is sulphur dioxide. The highest concentrations of SO2 are characteristic for Upper Silesia and Kraków. It can exceed even 1000 ug per cubic m on a 24 hour basis. The main source of SO2 is coal - it can contain up to 5% of sulphur. Over 90% of electricity is produced in coal power stations. None of them has in-stallation for reducing sulphur dioxide emissions. Coal is also used to heat private houses - this is the reason for extremely high concentration of SO2 during the winter (for example in Kraków).

The dust emissions are as dange-rous as the gas ones. Every year Kraków province receives from 50 to 650 tons of dust per square km. This fall-out includes 8500 tons of iron, 915 tons of of zinc, 139 tons of cadmium, 431 tons of lead, 175 tons of nickel. The average fall-out of iron in Kraków province is about 1 ton per square km but in Nowa Huta it may attain 20 tons per square km - it is 20 g per square m. As a consequence we have very high concentrations of heavy metals in food, particularly in vegetables. For example the concentration of cadmium in lettuce can be even 30 times higher than standard, of lead from 2 to 12 times higher, of other metals listed above from 2 to 8 times higher. The contamination of the soil is so high that we shouldn't grow potatoes, carrots, lettuce or parsley. This concerns especially the small gardens - workers' properties in Silesia, Kraków and Głogów - Legnica region.


Besides Silesia and Kraków there are 25 areas under ecological threat. All of them cover 10% of the whole surface and are inhabited by 12 mln people (1/3 of the whole population). In these 27 special areas exist 77% of dust emissions and 80% of gas emissions. The most serious situation can be found in the areas of ecological disaster: Gdańsk, Police, Płock, Głogów - Legnica, Upper Silesia and Kraków - Nowa Huta. Schools, hos- pitals, settlements, and small gardens are not properly located according to the rules. Mainly exposed to the harm of a contaminated environment are physical workers (about 2 mln). The second group in danger are children. The workers are especially exposed to respiratory diseases, cancers and neurosis. (This last is very frequent among students, too). Children suffer mainly from respiratory diseases - in Kraków and Silesia about 1/3 of them are chronically ill.

Another big problem, particularly in Kraków, is the corrosion of buildings. Some 1700 buildings of historic importance are rapidly decaying there.

The degradation of the natural environ-ment has its economical dimension, whereby national economy suffers big big losses. We can estimate the losses of the economical goods but not of the health of the population. All losses were reckoned as above 10% of our GNP in 1980, ie. 200 milliard zlotys. When we compare this sum (200 mld zl) to the 8 mld zl spent on protection of natural environment, the causes of this tragic situation are quite obvious.

The national economy as a whole should be interested in increasing funding for environmental protection. But the factories are not. Investment in purification plant installation increases costs. Thus each factory has no financial advantage - penalties are cheaper than cleaning equipment.

And what about the law system regulating this matter? There are several acts other than the main one from 1980. But even the finest one will be only a piece of paper if we cannot start the organizational potential to make it real.

Katarzyna Rawluk
Piotr Rymarowicz

GB No. 4, spring 1991 | Contents