A legacy of contamination, air pollution, and toxic waste disposal


Contaminated ground water, pollution, accident in a mining shaft




Creative Commons Licence


Created Date

December 9, 2021 - 8:15am


Contributed date

December 9, 2021 - 8:11am

Critical Commentary

Mainly before 1990, the industry has produced an enormous amount of toxic byproducts that are partly stored in some of Germany's largest landfill sites and partly just leaked into the soil and underground water bodies. In Bitterfeld, the degradation of soil and water bodies presents an immediate risk for citizens that has given rise to the term “Bitterfeld-syndrome”.

The underground water bodies below Schkopau (near Halle) contain high concentrations of mercury and aromatic hydrocarbons (highly toxic) that are known to have leaked to the nearby village of Korbetha and also have to be continuously managed. Several landfill sites were constructed with inefficient barriers and are leaking toxic substances.

Former mining shafts are flooded after water management has been suspended, ruptures in the soil can cause earthquakes (Teutschental September 11, 1996) and flow-out of toxic substances. In Halle, unknown quantities of pre-products for mustard gas remain underground at the site of the former Orgacid-Werke in Halle-Ammendorf and toxic by-products of gas production remain on the site of the fromer gasworks on the Pulverweiden-island.

The chemical plants that are still active and the coal power plants produce air pollution that affects the nearby villages and the greater area. This pollution is not adequately monitored by the state which defers responsibility to the companies, but doesn’t supervise them. The health impact was evaluated by Greenpeace to cause several dozen deaths a year, but that claim was never examined by state agencies.

The old salt-mining shafts (eg. Teutschenthal, also in the nearby village of Zielitz) are use as storage for current hazardous waste from world-wide sources. The safety of these operations is highly questionable. In Teutschenthal alone there has been an earthquake (1996/11/11), an underground explosion (2019/11/08) and a continous flow of water through an abandoned shaft that has created a new salty lake.


  1. https://www.mdse.de/Entsorgung_Verwertung_HHSchkopau.html

  2. https://gld-sa.dhi-wasy.de/GLD-Portal/

  3. LAF, Landesamt für Altlastenfreistellung (2020). Jahresbericht 2019. Bericht aus der Projektarbeit.

  4. Image of smoking chimney by Philipp Baum



Cite as

Philip Max Baum, 9 December 2021, "A legacy of contamination, air pollution, and toxic waste disposal", contributed by Philipp Max Baum, Disaster STS Network, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 9 December 2021, accessed 3 July 2022. https://disaster-sts-network.org/content/legacy-contamination-air-pollution-and-toxic-waste-disposal