Environment: Where The Sky Stays Dark

The lifting of the Iron Curtain reveals the planet's most polluted region

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The Lenin Steel Mill, on the outskirts of Krakow in southern Poland, is a classic example of the dilemma. Yellowish-brown smoke from the mill's grimy chimneys falls as corrosive dust or acid rain on the city's ancient center. Sandstone statues and figurines are melting away. "We have done more damage to Krakow in 40 years of Communist rule than in the previous six centuries," says Jerzy Sawicki, secretary of the Polish Ecological Club, one of many groups working to save the city. One way to curb the pollution would be to cut sharply the plant's production. But even Solidarity, the trade union that led Poland's struggle for democracy, balks at the idea.

Eastern Europe cannot hope to scrub itself clean without assistance from the West. A study by the West German Institute for Economic Research estimates that $200 billion would be needed over the next two decades just to deal with industrial pollution. West Germany plans to allocate some $500 million to clean up East Germany, and Sweden has approved $45 million for Poland. Such grants are not mere charity. Since nature erects no barriers across the air, land or water, the West knows that the heavy pollution to the East casts a grim shadow over the entire continent.


CREDIT: TIME Chart S. Hart


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