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Thursday, October 14, 1999 Published at 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK


Balkans environment 'seriously damaged'

Novi Sad refinery blazes after a raid: But there was no disaster

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

A United Nations task force which has been investigating the aftermath of the Balkan war says it found four environmental hot spots in Serbia.

But the task force, a joint operation by the UN's Environment Programme and its Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), says the conflict did not cause an environmental catastrophe for the whole Balkan region.

The report of the Balkan Task Force (BTF) says the pollution found at the four hot spots is serious enough to pose "a threat to human health".

However, it says much of the pollution dates from before the war, and it found "widespread evidence of long-term deficiencies in the treatment of hazardous waste".

[ image: Pancevo needs urgent action]
Pancevo needs urgent action
The BTF leader, the former Finnish Environment Minister, Pekka Haavisto, says the international community should help the Yugoslav Government to tackle the hot spots, all of which are within Serbia.

They are the industrial complex at Pancevo; the Zastava car plant in Kragujevac; the oil refinery beside the Danube in Novi Sad; and the ore smelting complex at Bor.

At Pancevo, the BTF says a contaminated canal which flows into the Danube needs urgent remedial action, and a mercury spill needs immediate cleaning-up.

There is PCB and dioxin contamination in Kragujevac, and quantities of badly-stored hazardous waste. The BTF urges detailed studies at the Novi Sad refinery of possible contamination of water supplies.

And it wants immediate action at Bor to stop further large releases of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, and secure storage for damaged equipment containing PCBs.

At all the industrial sites it visited, the BTF says there is a need for studies of possible water contamination, treatment or removal of polluted soil, and continued monitoring.

The task force concentrated its work on five areas:

  • industrial sites
  • the river Danube
  • biodiversity in protected areas
  • human settlements
  • the use in the war of depleted uranium (DU) weapons.

The report says there is no evidence of an ecological disaster for the Danube, though the task force did find "significant chronic pollution".

[ image: Depleted uranium weapons were used in the war]
Depleted uranium weapons were used in the war
Damage to biodiversity "is significant within limited areas, but of relatively minor importance" given the size of the protected sites. But unexploded weapons are an immediate threat, and could limit tourism.

On human settlements, the report says the problem is not just about rebuilding houses, but about finding ways to give people security of tenure as well.

In its work on depleted uranium (DU), the BTF was "forced to rely on available published information", and it calls on Nato to provide detailed information on the use of DU weapons.

But it recommends preventing access to places where DU contamination has been confirmed, warning people of the possible risks, and carrying out a thorough review of the effects of DU exposure through the World Health Organisation.

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