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A Fresh Start is Demanded - But Costly

January 17, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A quarter of Poland’s farmland is so polluted with lead, zinc, cadmium and mercury that it might be dangerous to grow vegetables in it. Ninety-five percent of the country’s rivers are undrinkable - and half so toxic that the water can’t even be used in industry for fear of destroying equipment.

In Hungary, air pollution accounts for one in 17 deaths. A quarter to a third of the forests in four of the six countries of Eastern Europe show signs of dying from air pollution.

Small wonder then, say American environmentalists, that in the upheavals which have thrown out the old regimes of Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania one of the persistent demands has been for environmental repair.

″Pollution was part and parcel of the system that molested the people in their daily lives,″ says Jeffrey Leonard of the World Wildlife Fund, author of several books on Eastern Europe’s pollution problems.

Now environments take hope that the new leaders of Eastern Europe - site of some of the world’s worst pollution - will seek to alleviate the conditions which are turning their countries to ruin and threatening the health of the people.

″Environmental conditions are so bad they affect the very possibility of having economic growth,″ said Jessica Tuchman Mathews of World Resources Institute, a research organization. ″How does a country rebuild a shattered economy when it can’t breathe its air, till its soil or drink its water?″

Said Richard Liroff, director of the Eastern European Environmental Affairs Program of the Conservation Foundation, ″People there are saying, ’We’ve had enough. Our health is being threatened, our lungs damaged, our forests destroyed, our children harmed by lead and heavy metals in the environment.‴

But the question remains whether East Europeans, having to cope with unemployment, inflation and bankruptcy as they move toward market economies, will be tempted to put environmental concerns aside as they struggle to remodel their economies and political structures.

″They’re going to have to make some extremely hard choices,″ said Liroff. ″A lot of their industry, especially in Poland, is antiquated. Rather than trying to place pollution control equipment on it, it might be better to shut it down entirely and eventually replace it with modern equipment that is energy and resource efficient and doesn’t pollute as much. But that means unemployment. Is society willing to accept that cost? I just don’t know.″

Civic Forum, which formed the basis of the new government of Czechoslovakia, appeared to provide its answer in laying out its program for the nation last fall.

″We all must seek a method of restoring harmony between man and his environment,″ Civic Forum said. ″We will strive (for) a gradual repairing of the damage which has been inflicted upon nature during recent decades. ... We are aware that this will mean sacrifices on the part of all of us. This will require a change in value scales and lifestyles.″

Said playwright Vaclav Havel upon taking office as the new Czech president: ″We have laid waste to our soil and the rivers and the forests that our forefathers bequeathed to us, and we have the worst environment in the whole of Europe today. Adults in our country die earlier than in most other European countries.″

William Chandler, senior scientist with Battelle’s Pacific Northwest Laboratories, and he is confident the Poles will make the sacrifices necessary to build an energy-efficient and environmentally clean industrial plant for its future.

U.S. environmentalists say the attempt to combat the air pollution that leads to global warming could be undermined unless the pollution of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union is curtailed.

″What happens in Eastern Europe is very important for global warming because they burn so much coal,″ said Liroff. ″The Eastern European countries need to be put on an energy diet in much the same way as the United States and other industrialized nations need to be put on one.″

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