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Citizens in Bosnia rally against air pollution

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA / TETOVO - 05 June 2015

Fresh flowers, a symbol of nonviolence as an answer to the terror of industrial polluters. Residents of Zenica, one of the largest towns of Bosnia and Herzegovina are protesting today against the practices of multinational steel corporation ArcelorMittal. Communities from nine villages surrounding industrial plant gathered at the gate 9, entrance to the steelworks, for a protest symbolically held on the World Environment Day. Residents decided to express their frustration with the quality of environment, the corporation's violation of national legislation, and indifference of the responsible Institutions. Bosnian Eko-Forum and Czech Arnika NGOs provide legal assistance to the communities in the outskirts of Zenica.

Pictures from the protest

“Citizens have lost their hope that the authorities finally begin implementing laws, and decided to protest openly despite the fear of losing their jobs. We do not demand the factory to be closed down; we want development, expansion and more jobs. But we also want a compliance with the environmental regulations. No political speeches or addresses of political parties will be allowed on Friday, only the representatives of some 20,000 inhabitants in the community will present their demands,” says chairman of Tetovo municipality Samir Kubat.

The steelworks was privatized 10 years ago by a global leader in steel production, ArcelorMittal. The privatization should have been followed by 150M € investments, but only a third of that sum was really invested. The most expensive environmental projects were repeatedly delayed, which led to almost catastrophic air, soil and water pollution. The environmental permits expired in December 2014, and the new permits are being prepared far from the reach of public. Recent increase in the USD/EUR exchange rate leads to rapid increase of steel production and consequent dramatic increase of air pollution. Common levels of the fine particles of dust, PM10, are now at the incredible hourly average of 985 µg/m3; the steelworks being now the major source of pollution. Compared with central roadside London area, the levels of Zenica are 30 fold higher which could threaten the health of the exposed citizen (1). Both EU air quality standards and Air Quality Index have health safety thresholds that are currently being several times exceeded in Zenica.

Bosnian Eko-Forum and non-governmental organization Arnika from the Czech Republic opened consultation center for pollution victims last year in Zenica. Now, they are enforcing issue of the environmental permits according to European standards. NGOs also offer legal help to the citizens and prepare legal action against violation of the law and extreme air pollution (2).

“We understand that steelworks has negative impacts on the environment - we all were born in industrial town. What we cannot tolerate is trampling laws and unscrupulous poisoning of thousands of people. Why the state authorities keep silent when ArcelorMittal is producing having permission?” asks the president of Eko-Forum Zenica and university professor Samir Lemes.

“ArcelorMittal treats Bosnia as third-word country. However, its behavior demonstrates wider problem. Since Bosnia is not a member of the EU, corporation can abuse leaky legislation, weak state and lack of control. Avoiding investments in protection of the environment, shameless steel tycoon reaches enormous profits. Local communities deserve legal help and assistance in this unequal struggle,” says head of Arnika's Center for Citizens´ support Martin Skalský.


Notes for editors:

More information on the case

1) Air pollution by dust particles

Common hourly averages in the central roadside London are stable at around 32 µg/m3, with twelve excessive levels (that are still moderate and do not exceed 40 µg/m3). Data till the end of April 2015.

EU air quality standards set the safe daily limit to 50 µg/m3. This threshold should not be exceeded more than 35 times a calendar year. The Air Quality Index sets the threshold of daily concentration that is already considered unhealthy to higher than 150 µg/m3.

2) Context

The World Environment Day 2015 is celebrated in a very special way in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Citizens who live next to the ArcelorMittal steelworks gathered today to express their discontent with lack of investments into environmental protection as well as with government's inability to discipline the foreign investor.

Banlozi, Donja Gracanica, Donja Vraca, Gradisce, Podbrezje, Ricice, Tetovo, Zmajevac and Pehare. All of these settlements would be pleasant villages at the mountains around Zenica, had there not been the factory that directly suffocates them. „I live quite far from the factory, but recently I noticed the quality of air worsened.  Every morning, when I open the window, I feel a nasty smell.  I also noticed the city displays that should inform us about the levels of pollution didn´t work. They showed only time and date, but no air pollution data,“ says citizen of Zenica Mirzet Kameric.

We wanted to draw attention to injustice on citizens by the nonviolent message of leaving fresh flowers on the gate of the ArcelorMittal. I hope this civil action will shake the conscience of the heads of the steelworks," says the president of the parents' council, Elementary school Hasan Kikić Tetovo and activist of Eko-Forum Zenica NGO Edita Šišić. Her family house is only 500 m far from the chimneys of the factory.