The residents of Czerwionka-Leszczyny have been left to struggle with the problem on their own. ClientEarth is taking action to help them.
Environmental law firm ClientEarth has launched a new Europe-wide campaign to collect evidence from residents who believe their health is being affected by next-door industrial plants and their hazardous emissions.
The campaign has been sparked by locals raising the alarm over appalling air quality in Poland’s Czerwionka-Leszczyny region. The plant there is the first under scrutiny.
Residents have been vocal about the Silesian town’s “unbreathable” air and the abnormal rate of cancer diagnoses for years. They believe emissions from the town’s outdated coking plant are to blame.
The pollutant of particular concern is benzene, a known carcinogenic which can cause leukemia, affect the nervous system, and disturb bone marrow function.
ClientEarth lawyer Małgorzata Smolak said: “Benzene concentrations in the town’s air reach up to 100 micrograms per cubic metre. When you look at guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), there is actually no level at which benzene is safe for humans to breathe. This is an extremely worrying situation.
“The residents of Czerwionka-Leszczyny have been left to struggle with the problem on their own. ClientEarth is taking action to help them.”
ClientEarth has launched both English and Polish-language versions of a campaign website. The sites feature testimonials from residents of Czerwionka-Leszczyny and detail the health threats related to industrial air pollution - particularly those from benzene produced by the coking industry.
Visitors to the site can join the action and share their own local industrial emissions insights. This means ClientEarth can identify further problems in Poland – and beyond – with a view to protecting people from pollution and dangerous chemical threats elsewhere.
Smolak added: “Industrial emissions in Poland are a serious problem. The country has the worst air in the European Union.
"According to official data, industry and energy production account for about a quarter of all particulate matter emissions in Poland. We’re acting to protect people who have suffered too long as a result.”
Coking is a refining process, which distills heavier fuels into lighter ones – specifically the “coking” or metallurgical coal needed to run steel plants.
In August, ClientEarth filed a motion to Katowice’s Regional Inspectorate of Environmental Protection, demanding immediate closure of the coking plant.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. He tweets at @EcoMontague.