Air Date: Week of July 9, 1999
Reporter Drew Leifheit summarizes the first detailed study on the environmental fallout from NATO bombing and refugee migration during the recent war in the Balkans.
CURWOOD: A Central European watchdog group has issued the first detailed report on the extent of environmental damage from NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Drew Leifheit reports.
LEIFHEIT: Based in Budapest, Hungary, the Regional Environmental Center monitors the ecology of East Central Europe. Its report, compiled for the European Union ministers, itemizes the potential harm caused by the war to the water, air, soil, and human health in Yugoslavia and its neighboring states. The center's Tom Popper says that while large-scale ecological catastrophes were averted during the war, resulting pollution from the 78 days of NATO bombing, especially near industrial communities, is severe. Popper says that while black clouds spewing from targeted petrochemical plants posed an immediate threat, the long-lasting environmental danger is in the water. The bombing, he says, released massive amounts of toxic chemicals, including polyvinyl chloride and PCBs into surrounding waterways.
POPPER: The bigger problem is the water table. The chemicals that seep into the water table slowly. And these can take a long time to build up to toxic levels. And suddenly, you'll find a well that was perfectly good a while ago is polluted. Or a water table that feeds crops, essentially the crops suck the water out of the ground and it has been fine, and after seepage of several months or, you know, longer, it gets damaged. That's something that you just have to constantly watch.
LEIFHEIT: Also needing long-term monitoring, says Popper, will be the effects of radiation from metal-piercing depleted uranium shells used by NATO forces against Serb armor. While the report shows the worst ecological impact occurred in Serbia and Kosovo, Popper says towns in Albania and Macedonia weren't prepared for the masses of Kosovar refugees that poured across their borders.
POPPER: Suddenly putting down a refugee camp somewhere would overtax the water and sewage systems of the nearby town. And the infrastructure there is already very weak. The damage done by this is again something that's going to be around for a while. Where there should have been sewage treatment plants, there were open pits.
LEIFHEIT: Popper says the West must integrate environmental concerns into its plans to rebuild the Balkans. And he says the ecological damage in Serbia, which affects the entire region, shouldn't be ignored, even if Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic remains in power. Meanwhile, a multi-national meeting of non-governmental organizations to address environmental concerns of the war is scheduled to take place in Belgrade on July 15th. For Living on Earth, I'm Drew Leifheit in Budapest.
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