Five years have passed since one of the largest waste fires in Poland. In the area of the former Boruta plant in Zgierz (Łódź Voivodeship), over 50,000 tons of waste, which came from Great Britain, Germany, Sweden and Italy, were stored. Nearly half of them burned down. 1,500 firefighters battled the element for a week. After a long investigation, the prosecutor’s office concluded that it was arson. The trial of three people accused, inter alia, of illegal dumping of waste has started before the court in Łódź. To this day, about 30,000 tons of garbage that remained after the fire has not been cleaned up, despite the judgment of the Supreme Administrative Court, which indicated who should do it.
The fire on the plot at Boruty Street in Zgierz broke out on May 25, 2018. It is estimated that more than 50,000 tons of waste could have been stored there – which, as later established by the prosecutor’s office, came from several European countries. Two companies were operating in the area where the fire occurred, which collected this waste.
The mountain of garbage there grew from week to week, in the final phase, before the fire broke out, it reached the power lines and covered the entire huge area. Local residents, but also companies operating nearby, complained about the unpleasant smell and the plague of flies, which were impossible to deal with.
– It was impossible to function normally here, I remember that it was the hot end of May, it was above 30 degrees. This waste simply began to decompose, we had a dozen or so fly traps in the whole office, they were filled every few hours – recalls an employee of one of the companies that was adjacent to the landfill.
The man adds that the mountain of waste began to grow very rapidly about a month before the fire broke out. – There are high-voltage lines here, quite a few meters from the ground, the waste reached almost to the wires, there was so much of it. We were really concerned about what was going on here. We called everywhere to have someone come and see it. A couple of times someone was there, but nothing happened, the waste continued to arrive,” the man described.
Huge fire in Zgierz. 1,443 firefighters on site
Local and national media began to be interested in the case. In the evening of May 25, 2018, a few days after the photos and reports from the site appeared – the waste began to burn.
Several fire engines arrived at the scene. Firefighters tried to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading to nearby businesses.
After five years, junior brigadier Jędrzej Pawlak, press officer of the provincial commander of the State Fire Service in Łódź, admits that it was the biggest fire he had seen during his 22-year service.
– 1,443 firefighters put out the fire, 427 vehicles of various types were on site, three sources of water were used – from the water supply system, the Bzura River and the nearby sewage treatment plant. It’s the biggest fire I’ve ever seen in my life and it was difficult to control because of the type of waste, it was compressed plastic, which gives a lot of energy when burned, and the strong wind did not help, which caused the fire to spread very quickly throughout the entire area. landfill – recalls Pawlak.
– Firefighters did everything to prevent the fire from spreading to the surrounding plants where large amounts of various chemical substances were stored – added the press officer of the State Fire Brigade in Łódź.
Smoke from the fire was visible for several kilometers. Internet users wrote that the “Zgierzuwiusz” volcano erupted.
Prosecutor’s Office: There was arson
After a months-long investigation conducted by the District Prosecutor’s Office in Łódź, waste was found to have been ignitedHowever, the perpetrators have not been apprehended.
The prosecutor’s office brought charges against three former presidents of companies that collected waste on a plot at Boruty Street in Zgierz. Charges have been filed in court in recent weeks.
– Among them is Artur K., accused of bringing waste from GermanGreat Britain, Belgiumthe Netherlands, Italy and Sweden, thus violating the provisions established by European parliament. No less than 25,000 tons of waste, i.e. over one thousand one hundred transports, were delivered to Zgierz, and it lasted from February 16, 2017 to April 2018, says Krzysztof Kopania, spokesman for the Łódź district prosecutor’s office.
The indictment states that the waste was stored incorrectly – it was too close to the buildings, at the border of the plot and under the high-voltage line. – What is very important, there was a lack of maneuverability for firefighting vehicles, which in the event of a fire would pose a threat to the lives of people staying there, and a direct threat to the natural environment – adds prosecutor Kopania.
Artur K., by the decision of the prosecutor’s office, cannot run a business related to waste, he is facing up to five years in prison.
The next people to stand trial are the former presidents of another company operating on a plot at Boruty Street in Zgierz. – It’s Marek W. and Andrzej P. They are accused of storing waste in an amount of not less than seven thousand tons without securing it. Both are also facing up to five years in prison, prosecutor Krzysztof Kopania informs.
A million zlotys fine for a waste storage company
Voivodship Inspectorate for Environmental Protection in Łódź w August 2018 imposed on the companywhose president was Artur K. one million zlotys penalty.
As Krzysztof Wójcik, the then director of VIEP in Łódź, said, it was the first such penalty in history. However, the company has yet to pay her.
– The administrative fine could not be enforced. The enforcement proceedings instituted at the request of VIEP were discontinued by the tax office due to the lack of assets of the obligee from which effective enforcement could be carried out – informs us Joanna Pepłowska from VIEP in Łódź.
He adds that the inspectorate has taken steps to transfer responsibility for the company’s arrears to members of its management board. – For this purpose, on the basis of regulations tax code Proceedings were instituted against a member of the company’s management board who performed this function when the arrears claimed by VIEP arose. In the course of the proceedings, it was established that the only member of the company’s management board who held this position at the time the arrears arrears arose was suspended from the duties of the president of the company’s management board by a final decision of the district prosecutor’s office. Due to this circumstance, it is not possible to transfer the liability for the company’s obligations to the above-mentioned member of the management board.
Five years after the waste fire, nobody cleaned up
In the place where the fire broke out, nothing happens. Our journalist entered the area without any problems, because there is no fence from the side of Kwasowa Street, and a well-trodden path leads to the plot, which may indicate that other people enter it regularly.
The waste left over from the fire is overgrown with trees and bushes and there is an unpleasant smell in many places.
How is it possible that for so many years no one has liquidated either the burnt garbage or those that did not burn?
Four years of bureaucratic ping-pong
For nearly four years, there was a dispute over who should clean up the waste left over from the fire. The starost of Zgierz indicated that this should be done by the marshal of the Łódź voivodship, while the marshal indicated that it must be done by the starost.
The case was settled in March 2022 The Supreme Administrative Courtwho decided that the Marshal of the Łódź Voivodeship must enforce the removal of waste after the fire in Zgierz. In the justification of the judgment, the court argues that it is the marshal of the Łódź Voivodeship that is competent to issue a permit for waste collection in a situation where its weight exceeds three thousand tonnes per year, and thus is the competent authority to take action against the waste holder. He ruled so, despite the fact that in the case of this waste, the consent for storage was issued by… the starost, not the marshal. In the meantime, however, in 2020, the regulations changed and from that moment on, landfills larger than three thousand tons per year are the responsibility of the province marshals.
Mayor vs Marshal
– The marshal had doubts, we had no such doubts, so we applied to the Supreme Administrative Court to resolve the dispute over powers and the court in its final decision indicated that the competent authority is the marshal of the Łódź Voivodeship. Moreover, the court indicated that the marshal should take action in accordance with Article 26a of the Waste Act, and this article states that when waste poses a threat to people or the environment, the competent authority shall immediately take action to remove and manage this waste . To my surprise, the marshal did not take action from this article, but took action in accordance with the law on enforcement in administration, and it is incomprehensible to me – Wojciech Brzeski, a member of the board of the Zgierz district, tells us.
Brzeski suggests that the money for cleaning up the waste is in the National Fund for Environmental Protection. – We had a similar situation to the one in Zgierz, in Brużyczka Mała, where hazardous waste was lying, it was within our competence, we did not shirk our responsibility and we obtained over PLN 11 million. The waste has been cleaned up and disposed of.
However, Andrzej Górczyński, a member of the board of the Łódź Voivodeship, sees the matter of clearing up the waste after the fire in Zgierz differently. In his opinion, the court indicated that part of the waste must be cleaned up by the starost of Zgierz, and part by the marshal’s office.
– It is difficult to argue with the judgment of the Supreme Administrative Court, which clearly indicated who should do what in the case of the area after the fire in Zgierz and the discussion with the Zgierz starost is unfounded. It was the court, examining the subject matter of the case, that there was fire waste in this area. There is a definition of fire waste in the Waste Act and it should be pointed out here that this is waste resulting from accidents, generated during firefighting operations, therefore the starost must clean it up here and if he removes this waste after the fire, then the marshal will clean up the remaining waste that are there – informs Górczyński.
– You have to beat your chest as you seem to decide to landfill. I think that the starost should admit that he failed with this decision for those companies that have arrived in his area and now says that he failed with the decision, but it’s good that the law has changed, if I missed it, then I’ll hit everyone and let them clean up for me. Let him execute the sentence of the Supreme Administrative Court and clean up the fire waste, and we will clean up the rest – confirms Górczyński.
The exchange of official letters continues. And this despite the fact that the board of the Zgierz district and the board of the Łódź voivodship are from the same political team. The PiS-PSL coalition rules in the district of Zgierz, and PiS in the voivodeship.
Main photo source: PAP/Grzegorz Michałowski