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Le Monde/Front / Nato bombs take toll of environment - Herve Kempf
Depending on how one defines "disaster", the answer would seem at first sight to be no. But the environmental cost of the bombing has been high, even though very little information has been forthcoming from either the Serbs or from Nato.
The release of pollutants from bombed factories has been observed in neighbouring countries such as Romania, where acid rain was detected last week. Near Mehedinti and Timisoara the leaves of trees and some crops have withered. In Greece abnormally high levels of dioxin were recorded in April, but are not regarded as dangerous because of their ephemeral nature.
In Bulgaria 18 oil slicks have been spotted on the Danube. But according to the environment ministry daily measurements have not revealed excessive levels compared with any other spring. Sulphur dioxide and heavy metal levels in the atmosphere have increased, but not enough to cause concern.
However, environmental damage in Serbia itself seems distinctly more alarming. The bombing of the industrial zone of Pancevo, which comprises an oil refinery, a fertiliser factory and a chemicals complex, caused a dense toxic cloud to hang over the area for several days.
The tanks contained 1,200 tonnes of vinyl chloride monomers (VCMs), 1,500 tonnes of dichlorethylene, 6,000tonnes of caustic soda and 800tonnes of hydrochloric acid. The atmospheric concentration of VCMs, which are highly carcinogenic molecules, is 3,000 times the permitted level.A French environment ministry expert says the risk at the time must have been very high, but probably diminished as a result of dispersal. But it is likely that the site and the water table have been massively polluted. The same sequence of events has probably affected other main bomb targets, such as in Novi Sad, where there is an oil refinery and a chemicals factory.There is a particularly serious immediate risk in Baric, where a factory using outdated technology manufactures phosgene, an extremely poisonous gas. But the factory management has limited the danger of explosion by releasing as much dangerous matter as possible into the atmosphere and into rivers.
The total impact of the war on the environment will have to be measured at a later date. But a United Nations official who wished to remain anonymous said: "Under different circumstances, no one would have the slightest hesitation in talking about an environmental disaster." (May 26)
World Copyright by c Le Monde, Paris
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