For decades, no one has paid special attention to the impact of the Turów mine and power plant on the surrounding area. When mining demands it, whole villages are destroyed. It is only in the 1980s that people begin to demand protection of the air and the environment.
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– During the construction of the Suez Canal, 75 million cubic metres of soil were moved. In Turów 40 times more soil has to be transported and “piled up”…. A few villages and settlements will then disappear from the face of the earth – Rybażowice , part of Opolin , Biedrzychowice – but then, somewhere around 1975, the Turów miners will have a “little bit” of that 917 billion tonnes of coal. Probably half of the resources, converted into electricity, will strengthen the industrial backbone of the Polish economy – wrote a reporter of Wrocław’s “Workers’ Newspapers” on the year when Turów II opencast was opened . Enthusiastic about the prospects for the development of Polish industry, he smoothly glossed over the necessary – and it was a widespread belief – destruction of several villages with several hundred years of history. Rybarzowice is no longer there today. Same happened to Turoszów. The village which gave its name to the region and – in a distorted version – to the mine itself, has almost completely disappeared.
There is no sign of Turoszów anymore on the ground. All buildings visible in the historical lithograph were destroyed as the mine was gaining size.
The impact of the mine on the environment was not mentioned at all by the reporter.
For the first forty years of the mine’s existence, the question of environmental protection in the Turoszów area was pushed away.
Yes, there were studies on the impact of the mine and the power plant on the landscape, the state of the soil and air pollution. However, as long as the exploitation of the coal deposit was relatively inexpensive and took place under very favourable geological conditions, more extensive nature conservation measures were not carried out. A protective green zone around the settlements was not immediately created. Air pollution by sulphur dioxide and other components of dust from the power station also increased systematically.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the Polish-Czech-German border region earned the infamous nickname of the “Black Triangle”. It was one of the regions in Europe most damaged by industrial production.
The fears expressed by the Czech delegation at the 1962 conference came true: air pollution destroyed 8,500 hectares of forest in the Polish Izera Mountains, 7,000 hectares on the German side and an even larger area in the Czech Republic. The simultaneous exploitation of deposits and production of energy from coal on all three sides of the border meant that the “Black Triangle” was responsible for one third of Europe’s sulphur emissions in the late 1980s. It is worth noting, however, that the Turow combine had an incomparably smaller share of this than its neighbours. In 1991, it was estimated that Germany burned around 150 million tonnes of lignite in the border region, Czechoslovakia around 100 million and Poland only 21 million .
However, even this smaller contribution to environmental destruction than that of its neighbours had dire consequences for the inhabitants of the Turoszow area.
In the 1980s, the problem of the health of Bogatynia’s inhabitants came into sharp focus several times at the deliberations of the city and municipality’s National Council.
Councillors listen to reports on the impact of pollution on the condition of the inhabitants. In professional medical language, problems that everyone knows from their families, from their everyday lives, are summarised. Emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and radioactive dust, in combination with the specific terrain, particularly expose residents to bronchitis, emphysema and heart attacks. Tests have shown increased levels of methaemoglobin in the blood of the rich, which is formed from the union of haemoglobin with nitrogen oxides, does not distribute oxygen through the body and, in extreme cases, can cause suffocation. 83% of the Dzialoszyn children examined had bronchitis, while in Bogatynia the rate reached 93%. Doctors also found an increased incidence of bone disease, postural defects and anaemia among children. Among miners, there are also occupational diseases, back strain, circulatory diseases and the effects of constant exposure to noise. The latter, by the way, does not only affect the miners, but also the inhabitants of northern Bogatynia, Trzcińce, Zatoń, Działoszyń and Wigancice, where the mine’s conveyor belts run close to homes .
– Residential construction should not be developed in Bogatynia because of the high environmental pollution. In fact, this construction is not only not inhibited, but on the contrary developed, states Bolesław Dudzik, chief mining engineer at the Turów mine, at the council meeting .
The council session on 19 October 1981 ends with the adoption of a resolution with an appeal to the Polish government and the Jelenia Góra governor. The Bogatyń councillors want the governor to transfer 50% of the funds paid by workplaces as penalties for environmental pollution to health prevention and nature protection. They also want the government, together with the authorities of neighbouring countries, to develop a programme to clean up the Lusatian Neisse and to reduce emissions from power stations in the GDR .
However, the voice from Bogatynia apparently turns out to be a voice crying in the wilderness, since five years later, on 18 November 1986, the council adopts another resolution on the same issue.
Once again, it demands that the central authorities, including the Ministry of the Environment, cooperate with Czechoslovakia and the GDR, because the inhabitants of the region are affected by plants in all three countries, and the German neighbours, the councillors argue earlier in the discussion, are shirking their cross-border responsibility. There is also a new specific demand – that the power plant be fitted with special filters so as not to increase the size of dust and gas emissions. Let it also invest in the latest desulphurisation technologies. The Council also wants doctors working in Bogatynia to be trained in the area of lung diseases, a pulmonology clinic to be set up and a preventive health programme to be developed for the inhabitants .
These are still relatively moderate demands.
A 1991 study published by the Warsaw University of Life Sciences suggests that the ecological and health disaster around Turów was so serious that the best thing to do would be to evict the inhabitants from Bogatynia (ensuring that they could, however, come there to work) and to reforest the abandoned area with hardy, resilient plant species. If, however, the people were to stay, part of the area would have to be afforested anyway, and food and water would have to be supplied from afar .
Such a step ultimately turns out not to be necessary. Somewhat in the shadow of the political changes, a cross-border plan for environmental protection was created in 1991 – no longer between the People’s Republic of Poland, Czechoslovakia and the GDR, but between Poland and the Czech Republic and Germany. In 1992, the European Commission joins as the fourth partner. In the following years, environmentalists and researchers cautiously note, the Black Triangle starts to gain colour again. The German context in particular is relevant here: the new state is not interested in maintaining the lignite mining developed in the GDR. In 1992, the Hirschfelde power station is to be decommissioned, followed by most of the mines and power stations in Upper Lusatia . The effect in terms of reduced emissions of carbon, sulphur and nitrogen oxides is obvious. Poland cannot afford the decommissioning of Turow, so in 1993 a three-stage modernisation of the subsequent power station blocks was launched. It will last eleven years and bring tangible results, so significant that at the beginning of the 21st century, the Turów region is no longer counted among the most environmentally endangered areas in Poland .
The effort put into adapting the combine to the new standards of nature protection is unquestionable.
The modernisation, moreover, concerns both the power plant and the mine, and the local community accepts these steps with enthusiasm.
As noted by specialists from Poltegor in Wrocław, “a significant percentage of the population links their future to the mining and energy industry and fears losing their livelihoods if this industry dies out” .
The latter has not changed to this day.
I return again to the resolution of 18 November 1986, in which the Bogatynia councillors demanded in strong terms that their community be saved from the effects of air pollution. The entire second point is a serious indictment of the decision-makers making long-term economic plans. There was no concept for the development of the industrial district, the councillors wrote, particularly in the environmental sphere. There were no demographic analyses, no description of the existing infrastructure and no designation of protection zones.
The shortcomings of long-term and multifaceted planning, the eternal “we’ll see what fate brings” and “somehow it will be done” attitudes continue to haunt Bogatynia. On the other hand, a long-term plan for the development and management of industrial areas that will one day cease to live on mining was not only lacking in Poland. When the lignite industry was formally stopped in Upper Lusatia, the environment improved, but the local communities were not shielded from falling into deprivation. The three counties in Germany – Görlitz, Bautzen and Elbe-Elster – with the lowest median wages are located in Upper or Lower Lusatia and were historically linked to lignite. Divided administratively between Saxony and Brandenburg, historic Upper Lusatia has become one of the poorest regions in reunified Germany .
(to be continued)
This report was developed with the support of Journalismfund.
Piotr Lewandowski, Iwona Lewandowska and Czesław Kulesza co-operated in the preparation of this report.
 Should be: Rybarzowice.
 Should be: Opolna.
 A. Kubisiak, Za zdrowie górników! [w:] Znaki czasu. „Gazeta Robotnicza” Wrocław 1948-1978. Reportaże, Wrocław-Warszawa-Kraków-Gdańsk, Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich 1978, p. 31.
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 Archiwum Państwowe we Wrocławiu, Oddział w Bolesławcu, coll. 83 (Rada Narodowa Miasta i Gminy i Urząd Miasta i Gminy w Bogatyni), no 1/2, p. 74-80; A. Szpotański, Kotlina Turoszowska, p. 131.
 Archiwum Państwowe we Wrocławiu, Oddział w Bolesławcu, coll. 83 (Rada Narodowa Miasta i Gminy i Urząd Miasta i Gminy w Bogatyni), no 1/2, p. 65.
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 Archiwum Państwowe we Wrocławiu, Oddział w Bolesławcu, coll. 83 (Rada Narodowa Miasta i Gminy i Urząd Miasta i Gminy w Bogatyni), no 1/4, p. 256-259.
 A. Mikłaszewski, Katastrofa…, s. 30
 https://www.industriekultur-in-sachsen.de/erleben/akteure-erlebnisorte/details/kraftwerk-hirschfelde/; M. Fröck, Studies on Challenges in Post-Coal Regions: East Germany – Lusatia & Upper Lusatia [w:] R. Kulke, D. Švendová, Cz. Kulesza , I. Strachoň , P. Jaworski, Studies on Challenges in Post-Coal Regions, transform!europe, 2023, p. 6-7. Online access: https://www.transform-network.net/fileadmin/user_upload/studies_on_challenges_in_post-coal_regions_en.pdf; Stan i ochrona środowiska na pograniczu polsko-czesko-niemieckim, Wrocław 1999, passim.
 https://elturow.pgegiek.pl/O-oddziale/Historia-Elektrowni-Turow/Wazne-Daty; K. Dziubacka, Przemysł…, p. 184.
 Archiwum Państwowe we Wrocławiu, coll. 1997 (Centralny Ośrodek Badawczo-Projektowy Górnictwa Odkrywkowego Poltegor we Wrocławiu), no 1.1/74, s. 53.
 M. Fröck, Studies on Challenges in Post-Coal Regions: East Germany – Lusatia & Upper Lusatia [w:] R. Kulke, D. Švendová, Cz. Kulesza , I. Strachoň , P. Jaworski, Studies on Challenges in Post-Coal Regions, transform!europe, 2023, p. 12. Online access https://www.transform-network.net/fileadmin/user_upload/studies_on_challenges_in_post-coal_regions_en.pdf