Toxic mining waste threatens health near North Macedonia school
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[March 25, 2023]
By Fatos Bytyci and Ognen Teofilovski
LOJANE, North Macedonia (Reuters) - The heavy odour gives a hint of the
tonnes of toxic waste including arsenic oxide left at a landfill site
near where 400 children learn and play at a school in North Macedonia.
A chromium and antimony mine in the village of Lojane was closed in 1979
and the waste was abandoned, left in the open air, polluting land and
underground water supplies.
"I always tell my pupils not to approach this landfill," Afrim Zymberi,
a geography teacher at the school told Reuters, covering his nose from
the smell from the dump 100 metres away.
"I call on the government, please do something, it is very dangerous to
have lessons here."
The government says it is doing what it can while it tries to sell the
waste, including planning to fence off the zone.
According to the World Health Organization, arsenic is one of 10
chemicals of major public health concern. It says long-term exposure
from drinking water and food can cause cancer.
According to a 2007 report commissioned by the United Nations
Development Programme, 1 million tonnes of waste material were at
landfills in and near the village, with toxic concentrations of arsenic,
antimony and other hazardous substances. This is no more recent data.
Some 5,000 tonnes are just a few meters away from the rail line where
international trains go from Greece through North Macedonia and into the
rest of Europe.
North Macedonia has identified 16 locations of dangerous industrial
waste across the country.
When the country was part of former Yugoslavia there was little or no
attention given to whether the waste harmed people's health. But now, as
the Balkan nation aims to join the European Union, it has to do more to
clean up its soil.
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Dry water lines are seen in a landfill
contaminated with arsenic, in the village of Lojane, North Macedonia
March 9, 2023. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
Lendita Dika, from the government's Industrial Pollution and Risk
Management office, says the arsenic waste has not been removed
because they are waiting for investors to buy it.
She says a Turkish company withdrew from a contract in 2022 due to a
lack of economic interest, but a new tender will be opened soon as
demand is renewed. Arsenic is used as an alloying agent and also to
make glass, pigments, textiles, adhesives and pesticides, the WHO
In the meantime, the government plans to cordon off the area.
"In 2023 we will do a short-term solution and put a fence to stop
people and pupils from entering inside the zone," Dika said.
There is no credible data on the effects on people's health but the
2007 report said the arsenic concentration in the soil and water was
up to 50 times higher than permitted international standards.
"(The government should) immediately cover at least, and then to
take measures like instructions not to use the water from the wells
for drinking," Trajce Stafilov, a professor at the state Faculty of
Natural Sciences in Skopje, said.
Located half kilometre from the border with Serbia, the majority of
people in the village use water from wells to drink, and for their
cattle or agriculture.
Pensioner Fatmir Selmani hopes a filter jug provides some protection
as he draws water from the well near his house.
"The water has a better taste when it goes through this filter
rather than without being filtered," Selmani said.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci and Ognen Teofilovski; Editing by Alison
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