National Environment Outlook
The economic potential allows to place Poland in the group of developed countries, where environmental hazards are caused mainly by industries, particularly power industry, municipal economy and transportation. Various economic activity, or other forms of human activity, in many cases impacting to considerable extent the condition and scale of environmental transformation, are being conducted practically over the whole territory of Poland. Poland’s economic development, in particular the growing cargo haulage, including also hazardous substances, has imposed potential threats of the occurrence of Environmental Emergencies (EE).
Nevertheless, Poland’s natural values are considered as mostly outstanding, especially against a background of Western Europe. Numerous, and also valuable ecosystems, in terms of nature and landscape, are characterised by superior level of biological diversity. The acreage of protected areas, of differentiated status, occupying over ¼ of the country territory, placed Poland on this regard at one of leading positions in Europe. During recent 15 years, the acreage of protected areas grew over six times as much. In the period, seven times as much grew the number and acreage of landscape parks, 1,5 times as much grew the number of National Parks (only in 1996, two new parks were established), and the number of nature reserves.
Economic use of the most of Poland’s territory is apparently extensive in character, while having moderately influenced the change in environmental quality. Agriculture use comprises about 60% country territory. Agriculture production has retained its unchanged level for a number of years. Relatively inconsiderable use of mineral fertilisers and chemical agents for plant protection does not result in essential hazard to the environment. Another 28% of the country territory are forests, the majority of which belong to the State-owned forests. The area of forests has been systematically growing since the end of the second world war. The future expansion of forested area is assumed to be about 30% national territory by 2020, and up-to 33% by 2050. At the same time, the Polish forests are subject to pressure from various threats, as well natural and anthropogenic in character. Mostly hazardous anthropogenic factors include: air pollution, change in water conditions, and excessive forest penetration by humans.
The arduous types of economic activity and anthropogenic impact pertaining to human dwelling concentrate mainly in urban-industrial areas, and in their direct vicinity, to comprise no more than 10-15% country territory (including communication infrastructure). A considerable share in industrial structure is still on the part of branches strongly affecting the environment, such as extraction industry, the industries processing mineral raw materials, and the coal-based power industry. Poland has still kept its high-ranging position among countries of the highest mineral exploitation, including in particular energy raw materials. Also, the growth in natural gas and crude oil production is observed.
However, since the beginning of the nineties in parallel to pending transformation process of the national economy, the abatement of the pressure on the environment in Poland has been noted in line with gradual improvement in environmental condition. Favourable change is being perceived above all in such components like, the atmosphere and running surface waters. A spectacular example in this regard is the observed during recent decade the systematic, by almost 50%, decline in SO2 emission. Also, in the case of NO2 during the period of recent decade overall abatement of its emission was noted. So far achieved reduction of acidifying substances emission to the air has already brought about initial positive effects in a form of reduction of atmospheric precipitation pollution and acidity level.
Additionally, since 1990 over 33% decline in particulate matter emission was noted. Actions cumulated in legal-economic, organisational, technical and investment spheres caused, that in 1990-1996 a considerable progress was accomplished in pollutant load limitation, and reduction of total wastewater amount discharges to surface waters from urban and industrial point sources. Reduction of anthropopressure, including in particular elimination of pollutant flow from point sources – above all, insufficiently treated municipal sewage and industrial effluents – caused also some stabilisation in lake water quality, including essential improvement in sanitary indicators. However, general improvement in the state of this part of waters comes very slowly, and situation in most lakes has been still assessed as very bad. The acreage of perceivable symptoms of chemical degradation of soil does not exceed of 2.7% total national territory, whereas about 0.5% territory is considered as heavily degraded. A separate, the most commonly emerging problem, is high soil acidity.
Inadequately handled and managed industrial wastes, that originate in Poland in excessively large volumes, and municipal wastes, both are one of the most important factors causing pollution of underground waters, and locally – also soil degradation. Environmental loading with wastes systematically grew in bygone years, since almost a half industrial waste volume and practically 100% municipal wastes were disposed into waste disposal sites. The mass of accumulated industrial wastes, that in 1996 amounted to over 2 milliard tons consists at present on of the most difficult environmental protection problems to be solved. This amount has doubled for recent 15 years. As late as in the second half of the eighties, produced industrial waste volume appeared in about 25% decline, and in the nineties – it stabilised. However, at the same time grew the volume of dynamically produced municipal wastes which mass in comparison with 1975 increased almost twice as much. The issues of hazardous waste management on the level of households and small service companies have still remained unsolved.
It is currently estimated, that about 15 millions individuals (about 40% total population) fall within the range of arduous noise exposure, that does not stray away from the situation in the European Union countries. However, the exposure to road noise seems to be at present subject to some stabilisation. Exposure to railway noise is significantly less and it affects slightly over 1 million individuals, while exposure to aircraft noise is yet less intense. The excess of industrial noise levels over the permissible limit was measured daily between 1992 and 1996 and it was found that only 6% of the measurements indicated very high excess, accounting for 20 dB, and more. Data and control materials indicate a gradual improvement in this regard.
No hazard has been registered in the area of Poland. After the period of transient increase in ionizing radiation intensity, caused by the catastrophe in Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the situation has been presently recovered the condition from before this event. It is only the radioactively contaminated soil, mainly with caesium isotopes, that appeared its higher radiation than that registered in 1985.
vide: Detailed reports per country available for acidifying and eutrophying pollutants www.emep.int
Information for this profile was provided by: Bronislawa Gronkowska, Krzysztof Kacprzyk, Institute of Environmental Protection, and Jacek Mizak, Ministry of Environment
This profile was last edited 22 January 2004.