Heavy Industry and its Environmental Impact in Northern Hungary between 1950 and 1980


This article aims to tell the 'pre-history' of the environmental movements in East-Central Europe with a special regard to Hungary and its primary industrial region, the Borsodi Basin in the Sajó river valley.
Soon after the communist takeover, the Borsodi Basin was designated as one of the new Stalinist industrial centres in Hungary. The First Five Year Plan (1950-4) treated the geographical axis of Ózd and Miskolc as a top economic priority. Heavy industrial investment continued after 1956, and the Borsodi Basin, including the towns of Miskolc, Ózd, Kazincbarcika, Sajószentpéter and Leninváros, emerged as fortress of both old coal, and new natural gas/oil based production centres, second only to Budapest.
The Borsodi case was not internationally unique. Rather the contrary, what Borsod witnessed was a stereotypical vicious circle of industrialization, urbanization, water shortage, water supply extension, increasing water pollution, expensive water cleaning projects, which have changed many European industrial areas since the eighteenth century.
During the 1960s and 1970s the dominance of iron, and steel manufacturing was contested by emerging thermoplastic and petrochemical production in Borsod. New chemical factories represented an internationally competitive branch of industry in the European context, but also released significantly more harmful and larger amount of wastewater than the iron, and steel works. To control industrial wastewater discharges on a larger scale, the Hungarian state tightened its ambiguous and inefficient wastewater fine system in 1968.
During the 1970s, the Hungarian wastewater fine system, combined with economical industrial investments, and end-of-pipe technologies was able to significantly reduce energy needs, and the amount of wastewater discharged per production ton. Simultaneously, the state facilitated the individual environmental concern of citizens within controlled spheres of society. Professional and social debates over water issues widened rapidly after 1956. With escalating water pollution issues the water quality of the Sajó River and its tributaries were put into the limelight of professional and public concern in Borsod from the end of the 1950s.