MAC: Mines and Communities

Macedonia Town Raises Funds for Lawsuit Against State

Published by MAC on 2010-06-11
Source: Balkan Insight

Alleges 30-year legacy of lead & zinc pollution

Macedonia Town Raises Funds for Lawsuit Against State

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Balkan Insight

9 June 2010

Skopje - The central Macedonian town of Veles has been raising funds for its lawsuit against the state, which it claims turned a blind eye to pollution from a lead and zinc smelter that operated for 30 years on the outskirts of the town.

Thousands of Veles residents donated their money this weekend to support a joint effort by local NGOs and the municipality to prove in court that the state is to blame for not preventing pollution from a nearby lead and zinc smelter from contaminating the area for some 30 years.

"We are raising money, some 90.000 Denars (1,500 euros) that are needed for the further soil studies that the court has ordered," Angel Gushev from the local Boy Scout squad "Dimitar Vlahov" told Balkan Insight.

The squad is one of the seven groups in the "Green Coalition", the platform around which the local NGOs have joined forces.

Gushev said he was extremely satisfied with the turnout, which he said proves that Veles residents support the cause.

"We ask for nothing else but for the state to decontaminate our area," he said. The trial, the first in Macedonia in which a municipality has sued the state, should continue in autumn. The lawsuit was filed in October 2006.

Jadranka Stefkova, a spokesperson for the Veles Municipality told Balkan Insight: "The Veles Mayor Goran Petrov went to the fundraising event on Saturday and personally donated money for the cause."

The factory, built in the 1970s, is accused of being the source of various health problems faced by local residents, and several studies conducted in recent years indicate that the pollution did have an effect on the environment, and perhaps the population.

The Word Health Organization in 2001 pinpointed the small town with some 46,000 residents as an environmental black spot, listing it among the most polluted towns in the world.

Local doctors say that the pollution stemming from toxic metals has caused increases in cancer rates and other diseases as well as cases of birth defects.

In 2005 a comprehensive study done by the European Agency for Reconstruction found that the soil, water and air in Veles suffered significant pollution during the work of the factory. Large quantities of toxic metals were found in the environment.

The smelter has now been closed for seven years after going bankrupt. However, local residents fear that someone might buy the factory and restart the smelter.

"A possible investor cannot operate before first securing a comprehensive permit that would assess the factory's effect on the environment. He then needs a so-called integrated ecological permit and various other papers that require implementation of the latest environmental protection equipment," Filip Ivanov, the head of the environment directorate at the Ministry of Environment told Balkan Insight.

Ivanov said that the ministry already has operational plans for the decontamination of the area and prevention of further pollution, but that the large sums required to put the plans in motion remain the main obstacle. He did not comment on the ongoing lawsuit, explaining that he represented one of the parties involved.

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