A massive pollution scandal is unfolding on Berlin’s doorstep. It has been discovered that Berlin’s drinking water is being polluted with sulfate from a huge coal mine in Brandenburg.
The coal mine, run by the Swedish energy company Vattenfall, has been operating for decades near the town of Welzow, about 150km south of Berlin. The coal it is digging up lignite, or brown coal, which is a particularly dirty kind of coal that produces far higher greenhouse gasses than black coal. Not only that, but the mine itself has been pumping its waste water into the Spree river for years. It has claimed that the water is treated and cleaned before it is discharged.
But now water tests in Berlin have found that the amount of sulfate in the river has increased to above 300 milligrams. Scientists say that 250 mg is the safe limit. Above that, the sulfate starts to erode the concrete infrastructure of the city’s water system, and it starts affecting people’s health from 600 mg. For now the water coming out of your tap is still safe to drink.
The opening of a second coal mine in Welzow is currently planned but disputed. Some locals fear for their houses, which stand on mining ground. Others fear for their livelihood if the plans for the new mine don’t go ahead, as the regions economy is largely built on coal-mining, which has a more than 100 year tradition here. Photo by GuenterHH on Flickr.