Green road turns rocky

ERSTWHILE communist Germany finds to its concern that it really is greener on the other side. Germany's ever-strict pollution control measures have given rise to severe problems for the five states that earlier constituted East Germany.

The states were given a year's grace period to set up administrative machinery to enforce the anti-pollution laws. Today, these bodies are in place and action is beginning on wastewater discharg quality. Germany aims at reducing hazardous discharges to 50 per cent by the year 1995. Under current legislation all new industry must comply with strict emission standards and older industrial units must negotiate a programme to upgrade their technologies with the authorities. But the problem is compounded for the former communist-run industries. The water authorities are allowed to impose stricter standards in very polluted wters. Therefore, while the Federal minimum content for zinc is 2 mg/litre, in the highly polluted Elbe in Hamburg it could be as low as 0.5 mg/litre. This puts a double burden on the Eastern industry.

While fifty per cent of pollution control costs can be subsidised from a special government environment fund, installing new technologies to bring down pollution levels has its own problems. The government subsidy is only given for state-of-the-art technology. This leads to a never-ending chase to achieve the highest standards, set by any one industrial firm which has installed equipment to bring down its pollution to the lowest level ever. This, then, becomes the standard for all industries. As a result, industries only use the special fund for end-of-the pipe treatment and not for technology upgradation.

But even the authorities are finding it is hard to police each industry on an individual basis. German authorities are planning to use a range of biological tests on fish and algae to check pollution in the waters. For industry and government alike, the path from communism to green capitalism is going to be tough.