07 Sep 2016 Press release Chemicals & waste

Investigation of soils contaminated by industry gets underway in Serbia

Belgrade, 7 September 2016 - The first ever nationwide survey to identify and map sites where soils have been potentially contaminated by dangerous industrial chemicals gets underway in Serbia today.

Experts from Italy are joining counterparts from Serbia to conduct a field survey and set up a soil sampling programme at two sites near the towns of Sabac and Loznica. The threat posed by potential chemical contamination at these two sites is multiplied by their proximity to urban areas and major rivers - Drina and Sava - as well as frequent accidents at the abandoned industrial sites.

The factories near Sabac and Loznica are just two of the 359 potentially contaminated sites across Serbia. This UN Environment project, expected to run until 2018, will be followed on the ground by a major European broadcaster - Euronews.

Industrial production has been an economic driver in the Republic of Serbia, but has also been shown to be among the major causes of soil contamination. Among the various organic pollutants in the country are the heavy metals or potential carcinogens zinc, copper, nickel, chromium and cobalt.

The now defunct 'Zorka' chemical complex near Sabac used to be a true giant, producing up to 25,000 tonnes of zinc per year. But decades of industrial activity may have left a hazardous legacy of contaminated soils.

The UN Environment project will assess the environmental and health risk of the site and build capacities of national experts from selected ministries and institutions (Public Health Institute, Soil Science Institute of Belgrade and Institute for Field and Vegetable Crops in Novi Sad) in data collection, safe chemicals concentration limits specific to different sites and using X-ray instruments to screen sites for contamination. The developed methodology will be applied to other industrial areas across the country.

The field investigations will continue tomorrow with a visit to 'Viskoza' site, near the city of Loznica. The factory made the headlines in 2008, when a fire on its premises killed one person and threatened to engulf containers of the potentially life-threatening carbon disulfide. Industrial activities have long since seized at the site, but large quantities of potentially dangerous chemicals remain.

The project is supported by the Italian Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea, which is contributing $ 400,000 for capacity building and by the Global Environment Fund, which is providing $ 660,000 to cover broader costs. It builds on years of successful work carried out by UN Environment to remediate soil contamination in the region, following recent conflicts.

Improving environmental standards is a key area for Serbia's EU accession process. The project will also bring the country closer to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal 15 'Life on land,' which aims to halt and reverse land degradation.

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