Land and Resources, Environmental Issues
Wisloka, Bobr, Wisla, defoliation, southern Poland
Poland, like many other Eastern European countries, suffered significant environmental damage as a result of the economic policies of the Communist period (1945-1989), which emphasized the rapid development of heavy industry. Much of this damage did not become evident until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although environmental problems affect most of the country, the worst damage has been inflicted on the industrial region of Silesia, in southern Poland.
The country produces most of its energy by burning imported fossil fuels, particularly coal. Severe air pollution resulting from the emissions of coal-fired power plants has measurably affected human health. Up to three-quarters of Poland’s trees show damage from acid rain.
Water pollution is a serious problem throughout Poland and is caused mainly by industrial and municipal waste and acid rain. About one-third of the total length of Poland’s rivers and one-quarter of the country’s lakes are severely polluted. Rivers that are particularly affected include the Wisla, the Bobr, the Nida, the Wisloka, and the Bug. In the early 1990s the overwhelming majority of the country’s river water was considered undrinkable. The Baltic Sea is also heavily polluted, mainly by industrial discharges, which severely inhibits the development of its beaches for tourism.
Serious efforts are being made to purify sewage and industrial discharges in Poland, but in 1993 more than one-quarter of the country’s wastewater was still being released untreated into rivers. Although more than 300 wastewater treatment plants have been built in Poland, many of the country’s factories and towns still do not have waste purification facilities.
Other environmental problems in Poland include deforestation and defoliation resulting from acid rain and other forms of air pollution, wildlife endangerment and extinction, and soil contamination. In recent years, preventive measures have been introduced in Poland’s mining and energy sectors in an effort to decrease pollution levels. These measures include the adoption of new regulations, heavy fines, and the installation of filtering and purification equipment. In addition, a number of political parties and citizen groups have formed around environmental issues. However, public attitudes toward the environment remain divided in Poland, owing largely to concerns about job losses and other potential economic consequences of environmental protection.
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