An NGO says industrial plants in the region need to do more to protect the environment.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb -- 26/12/12
About 10,000 people protested factory in Zenica on December 22nd against air pollution they say is caused by the Accelor Mittal steel factory. [Drazen Remikovic/SETimes]
The official website of Slavonski Brod, a city in eastern Croatia, last month issued a dire warning for people to stay in their homes because of the polluted air. Harmful gases from the Bosanski Brod oil refinery in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) were reportedly eight times higher than allowed by law.
Slavonski Brod Mayor Mirko Duspara said pollution is an ongoing problem in his community.
"Pollution is extremely high and it has been going on for years," Duspara told SETimes. "We urged our government to contact people from BiH and to do something about it, but without success. Poisons that come from refinery are usually sulfur hydrogen and benzene."
Slavonski Brod residents are not alone. Almost all the countries of the former Yugoslavia have environmental "black spots" that are polluting the air and the lives of people near them.
Some officials are now taking steps to reduce pollution and improve the quality of the air.
Michael Zmajlovic, Croatia's environment minister, told Slavonski Brod residents that he would personally commit himself to resolve this issue.
"This is a big problem and cannot be solved overnight. But I can promise that I personally will do everything to resolve this in the next few months," Zmajlovic said.
Officials at the Bosanski Brod oil refinery declined to speak to SETimes, as did officials at several other industries – the Bor coal mine in Serbia, Pljevlja coal mine in Montenegro and the Zeljezara Zenica steel plant in BiH.
But there is no doubt that air pollution is a significant problem in the region. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that poor air quality decreases the life expectancy of everyone in Europe by a year; 40 million people in the 115 largest cities in the EU are exposed to pollutants that exceed WHO standards.
The World Health Organisation says millions of people in Europe are exposed to air pollution. [AFP]
Zeljo Stanic, 59, a farmer from Buton, lives near the KAP aluminum factory in Podgorica.
"All houses in the nearest area around KAP are red because of the red poisoned dust from the factory. Some of them are abandoned, of course. Nobody wants to live in the poison. But there are people like me who have nowhere else to go. I have agriculture land here too, but it’s useless, and I can't grow plants in it," Stanic told SETimes.
Authorities of the KAP said that the ecology is their priority but there is no money for environmental protection.
"KAP has so far done several projects that help in some way to reduce harmful substances, but the financial situation is rather serious," company spokesman Goran Skataric told SETimes. "Management of KAP sees the investment in environmental protection as a priority, so that all projects of this kind would be started and as soon as the financial situation allowed it."
Naftna Industrija Serbije, an oil company in Serbia, was the first in Serbia to publish an environmental sustainability report, in 2010. In a statement to SETimes, the company said it invested 70 million euros in the last three years for ecological projects in Pancevo. The company earns 400 million euros per year.
"We will continue to invest in the protection of the environment, regardless of the difficult economic situation," the company said in a statement.
Environmental experts called on the companies to do more to protect the environment.
"We are looking at the long-term consequences of industrial pollution. They are very negative to the health of people and the environment," Aleksandar Perovic, director of OZON, an environmental NGO, told SETimes. "If owners don't start to invest in environmental protection, in the future these areas will look like abandoned mining excavations in which there are no life."