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Tuesday 14 September 1999.


UN Finds Toxic Hot Spots, Downplays Overall Risk The head of a UN environmental team said two areas in Yugoslavia were pollution "hot spots" in need of immediate decontamination (Reuters/Central Europe Online, 14 Sep), but he "played down concerns of an ecological catastrophe" caused by the recent war over Kosovo (UN Environment Program/Habitat release, 13 Sep).

Pekka Haavisto, head of the UN Environment Program/UN Center for Human Settlements Balkans Task Force (BTF), told reporters there was an "urgent" need to clean up a bombed petrochemical factory and a heavily polluted canal that feeds the Danube River in Pancevo. The environmental team found evidence of both old and new polluted sediments in the canal, he said.

At the Zastava automobile factory in Kragujevac, Haavisto said his team had already urged Yugoslav authorities to remove toxic wastes which pose a "serious threat to the health of the people working there." Regarding possible contamination of the Danube, which many communities use for drinking water, Haavisto said, "We didn't find any alarming things." And asked to comment on the possible contamination of agricultural areas, he said, "If you don't wash your salad or things like that, there might be some risks, but in the soil itself we didn't find any heavy pollution" (Reuters/Central Europe Online).

Localized Impact On National Parks

The BTF's most recent field work focused on the war's impacts on the region's biological diversity. The experts gathered "extensive" data on conditions in several national parks and protected areas, but Haavisto said the team's conclusions in these areas were consistent with its broader findings. "There has clearly been some localized impact" on vegetation and endangered species, he said, but the long-term impact on the region "will likely be minimal." A more immediate concern, he said, was the amount of unexploded ordnance in the parks, which could hinder their use for recreation and tourism.

A final report on the BTF's work will be submitted to the UN secretary-general by early October. Click here for the BTF's latest reports and maps on the Web (UNEP/Habitat release). (Back to Contents)

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