Poland vows to fight illegal waste dumps after toxic fires

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland will take decisive steps to end illegal waste dumping after a string of highly-polluting fires of waste dumps that were likely to have been started on purpose, the prime minister said on Tuesday.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives for an informal dinner ahead of a summit with leaders of the six Western Balkans countries in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/Pool

More than 60 fires took place at dumps in Poland this year and officials said many were likely to have been deliberately started so as to destroy illegal waste brought into Poland from other countries.

They linked the influx of waste into Poland to a decision this year by China to ban imports of many waste products.

“This is something that very seriously contributes to environmental pollution. And I want to say clearly, enough is enough,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference.

Public opinion was particularly shocked by a fire at an illegal waste dump near the central city of Zgierz that started last week and sent plumes of toxic smoke into the air, triggering pollution warnings. It took about 250 firemen working more than two days to put it down.

“I have to concur with the opinion that the large majority of these fires is not caused by any spontaneous ignition, but by ... illegal and reprehensible acts that we will fight against,” Morawiecki.

Interior minister Joachim Brudzinski told the same news conference: “The rise in these strange accidents (fires) is really accelerating and this is obviously related to China’s decision to close its market to waste imports, either municipal waste or waste for recycling from Europe.

“What follows is that there has been a recorded increase in illegal imports to Poland of materials that should not be in our country.”There were 63 waste dump fires this year in Poland, including 27 large ones, environment ministry data show, compared with 37 such fires last year.

Environment Minister Henryk Kowalczyk said Poland would change the law to fight illegal waste imports and dumping. Up to now, many firms have imported waste they said would be used for recycling, but no recycling has ever taken place, he said.

“We cannot allow Poland to become an illegal waste dump for Europe,” said Environment Minister Henryk Kowalczyk, also present at the conference.

Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Richard Balmforth