The New York Times

April 26, 1987, Sunday, Late City Final Edition

Section 3; Page 3, Column 1; Financial Desk


BYLINE By JAMES BOVARD; James Bovard, who has written extensively on
Superfund and other environmental policy issues, visited Hungary, Czechoslovakia
and East Germany this spring.

ACCORDING to Marxist theory, environmental problems cannot occur in Socialist
countries because man and nature are inherently in harmony. Unfortunately, the
trees, rivers and air of Eastern Europe do not understand Marx.
The New York Times, April 26, 1987

Across Eastern Europe, pollution - as well as general economic decline - are
the Grim Reaper of the l980's. In East Germany, according to a West German
environmental research group, 90 percent of the trees are sick, dead or dying.
The human mortality rate has increased sharply in Hungary, Poland, Russia and
Bulgaria, and environment-related illnesses such as cancers and skin and heart
diseases are soaring in all Eastern bloc countries.

In Czechoslovakia, health threats have become so ominous that the Government,
according to internal documents, considered a mass evacuation of its industrial
region in early 1986. In Poland, experts predict that all plants in Krakow could
be dead by the year l990, and the Polish Academy of Science estimates that
pollution damage is already costing Poland an amount equal to 10 percent of its
gross national product.

In Leipzig, once one of the prettiest cities in Germany and now a
chemical-industry center, the windward sides of monuments and buildings look
like they were scorched in a fire, while the leeward sides are smooth and clear.
In Molbis, a town downwind of Leipzig, the air is so dirty with the emissions of
chemical plants that drivers sometimes must turn on their headlights during the
day. Neighbors cannot see each other's houses, and visitors often vomit after a
night of breathing the air.
The New York Times, April 26, 1987

In Prague, mothers are advised not to give their babies tap water - even
after boiling it. In northern Bohemia, the most heavily industrialized area of
Czechloslovakia, life expectancy is up to l0 years shorter than elsewhere in the
country. Rates for skin disease, stomach cancer and mental illness are twice as
high or higher than in the rest of the country. According to Dr. Zdenek Badura,
a Czech environmental expert, ''new viral illnesses are emerging. The activity
of viruses has grown and they are assuming new forms unknown to us.''

Sections of northern Bohemia suffer with permanent near-zero visibility. The
Erzgebirge mountains along the Czech-East German border are rapidly becoming a
huge tree cemetery, the world's best showcase of the effects of acid rain. The
higher one travels up the mountains, the worse the forest carnage. At the top of
some mountains, not a single tree survives - just barren landscape with a few
remaining stumps.

In Krakow, the Polish National Lawyers Association reports that cancer, heart
disease and artery problems are between two and eight times higher than in the
rest of Poland, and the infant mortality rate is more than three times the
national average. A 1985 report by the Polish Academy of Sciences noted an
''appalling increase'' in the number of retarded school-age children in Upper
The New York Times, April 26, 1987

And Poland faces a catastrophic water shortage. Only 1 percent of the
country's water is clean enough to drink, and almost half the water is so
polluted that it is unfit for any use. Temporary water shortages now reportedly
affect l20 cities and l0,000 smaller towns. The Academy of Science report warned
that if present trends continued, ''in five years there will be no more water.''

Why is pollution so terrible in Eastern Europe? One reason is that, since 1980,
when the Soviet Union sharply reduced oil deliveries, East Germany, Poland and
Czechloslovakia have increasingly turned to brown coal. It takes five tons of
soft brown coal to produce the energy of one ton of black coal, and brown coal
has a very high sulfur content. And East European plants often use antiquated
machinery with no filters. Thus, the air is increasingly cloudy and poisoned.

BUT THE problems are deeper than that. In East Europe, the governments are both
protector and polluter - and this conflict of interest is almost always resolved
by maximizing production at the expense of the environment. Some governments
have tried until recently to deny that any environmental problem exists. East
Germany blames its dying forests on storms and heavy snow. One Czech Communist
Party ideologist attributed environmental problems to ''non-Socialist
individuals still surviving in the country.''

In most countries, environmental policy consists largely of praying for
strong winds. In Czechoslovakia, factories are often exempted from pollution
regulations when their output is declared to be ''in the interests of the
The New York Times, April 26, 1987

entire community.'' In Hungary, more than half the factories hit with pollution
fines have done nothing to reduce their pollution. Pollution controls in Polish
factories are frequently turned off to save energy.

Pollution can be reduced substantially only with expensive Western pollution
control equipment. But Eastern European nations cannot come up with a few score
billion dollars to overhaul factories, clean up rivers and install catalytic

Thus, Socialist poverty will likely be destiny - and doom - for East Europe's
environment. East Europe is a land of declining productivity, increasingly
antiquated machinery and collapsing infrastructure. The only East European
country not suffering falling living standards is East Germany, and most of its
''prosperity'' comes from its handouts from West Germany, and from extracting
$15,000 from the West German Government for each citizen that is allowed to

As the world economy becomes more integrated and the pace of technological
change quickens, East Europe is becoming an economic ghetto. The only advantage
in international trade that Eastern Europe had in recent decades was skilled
labor and low wage rates. But now that the newly industrialized countries are
rapidly raising their technological levels, Eastern Europe has lost its final
The New York Times, April 26, 1987


In all of these countries, pollution is getting worse and will continue
worsening for at least the next several years because of the increasing reliance
on brown coal. Severe environmental problems helped create the Solidarity
movement and continue to fuel the opposition in Poland. In Czechoslovakia,
Hungary and East Germany, dissident organizations are spreading the news of
health threats and urging governments to reform. Governments have arrested
environmentalists but it is a little difficult to hide tens of millions of dying

Eastern European governments face a Catch-22 situation. They must soon either
make expensive pollution control investments or face a public health catastrophe
and possible revolts. To afford the necessary investments, however, the
governments will have to cut living standards sharply - another potential

Pollution could be the final nail in the coffin of East European Socialism.
Unfortunately for Eastern Europe, there is no export market for brown snow and
dying trees.