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Human Settlements

Kosovo Conflict Environmental Impacts

The Kosovo conflict did not cause an environmental catastrophe affecting the Balkans region as a whole, but pollution detected at four environmental "hot spots" in Serbia (Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor), is serious and poses a threat to human health (UNEP/UNCHS, 1999). Much of the pollution pre-dates the conflict. At Pancevo (industrial complex), the wastewater canal which flows into the Danube is seriously contaminated with 1,2-dichloroethane (EDC) and mercury. There is also a mercury spill at the petrochemical factory. At the Zastava car plant in Kragujevac, there is PCB and dioxin contamination, and significant quantities of poorly-stored hazardous waste. At Novi Sad (oil refinery next to the river Danube) oil product pollution may have contaminated the groundwater/drinking water supplies. At Bor (ore smelting complex), large amounts of sulphur dioxide gas are released into the atmosphere, and there is damaged equipment containing PCB oils. There is no evidence of an ecological disaster for the river Danube as a result of the conflict. Pollution of the Danube sediment and biota is chronic both upstream and downstream of the sites directly affected by the conflict. Protected areas suffered physical damage from air strikes within limited areas, but this is of relatively minor importance when seen in relation to the overall size of the protected areas and the ecosystems which surround the sites which were hit. However, unexploded ordnance is both an immediate safety issue (risk to staff working in protected areas) and a possible long-term constraint to future tourism in and around protected areas. (UNEP/UNCHS, 1999) (http://www.grid.unep.ch/btf/).

The overall assessment of the environmental consequences of the Kosovo Conflict also included a comprehensive desk study on the potential effects of depleted uranium (DU) (UNEP/UNCHS, 1999b). Initial information on the use of DU in Kosovo during the Balkans conflict was made available by NATO only in February 2000. However, this information was not considered by the experts assisting the Balkans Task Force on the issue of DU, to be sufficient to recommend a field mission. Later, additional information was provided by NATO. This data included the possible coordinates of 112 targets that were hit between 6 April and 11 June 1999, together with number of rounds used in each case, where known. In November 2000, the experts assisting Balkans Task Force/Balkans Unit on the DU issue conducted field studies of sites in Kosovo that were struck by bombs containing DU during the conflict. A final scientific report on the findings was published in March 2001 (UNEP, 2001). No widespread ground contamination was found in the investigated areas. Therefore, the corresponding radiological and chemical risks are insignificant. There were a great number of contamination points in the investigated areas, but there is no significant risk related to these points in terms of possible contamination of air or plants. Penetrators are probably still lying on the ground surface. Although the radiological and chemical risks of touching a penetrator are insignificant, if one was put into a pocket or somewhere else close to the human body, there would be external beta radiation of the skin, leading to quite high local radiation doses after some weeks of continuous exposure. Skin burns from radiation are unlikely. Regarding contamination points, if a child were to ingest small amounts of soil, the corresponding radiological risk would be insignificant, but from a biochemical point of view, the possible intake might be somewhat higher than the applicable health standard. Remaining penetrators and jackets that may be hidden at several metres depth in the ground, as well as any on the ground surface, constitute a risk of future DU contamination of groundwater and drinking water. Heavy firing of DU in one area could increase the potential source of uranium contamination of groundwater by a factor of 10 to 100. While the radiation doses will be very low, the resulting uranium concentration might exceed WHO health standards for drinking water. (UNEP, 2001)

References

UNEP. 2001. Depleted Uranium in Kosovo - Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment. Report of the UNEP/Balkans Unit. United Nations Environment Programme. http://balkans.unep.ch/du/reports/report.html and UNEP News Release of 13 March 2001.

UNEP/UNCHS. 1999. The Kosovo Conflict – Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements. Report of the UNEP/UNCHS Balkans Task Force. United Nations Environment Programme/UNCHS, Nairobi, Kenya http://www.grid.unep.ch/btf/. and UNEP News Release 99/112 of 14 October 1999.

UNEP/UNCHS. 1999b. The potential effects on human health and the environment arising from possible use of depleted uranium during the 1999 Kosovo conflict. Report of the UNEP/UNCHS Balkans Task Force. United Nations Environment Programme/UNCHS. http://balkans.unep.ch/_files/du_final_report.pdf.

 

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