FYR Macedonia Puts Lead Foot Down on Veles Smelter

By Natasa Dokovska

VELES, FYR Macedonia, March 25, 2003 (ENS) - The biggest polluter in Macedonia, the battery factory MXK Zletovo in the city of Veles, was today partially closed by government order. The three largest parts of the factory, those which were the biggest polluters, have been shut down.

Under pressure from the public, which was expressed in a big womens' march on March 8, Veles, the most polluted city in the Balkans, will get some relief from the pollutants emitted by the Zletovo smelter.

Three parts of the Zletovo complex have been closed - the metallurgy, acid, and hitting units - all crucial to the operation of the battery factory.

This solution, according to a statement of Vlatko Serafimov, director from the State Inspectorate for Environment, will decrease pollution in Veles and the whole region.


Zletovo factory in Veles (Photo courtesy UNEP Grid Arendal)
At a press conference, Sarafimov explained that he, personally, gave the certificate to the management team at the headquarters in Zletovo to close three parts of the factory. Also, the director promised that the State Inspectorate will close the entire factory if those who are responsible do not respect this solution.

The Zletovo battery industrial complex was built in two phases and is the only production facility of this kind in Macedonia. Its basic activity, the company says, is the "manufacture of dry charged lead acidic starter batteries under PP (polypropylene) procedure." Its assortment includes more than 40 types of batteries.

For the period of time the certificate of closure is in effect, the team of managers at Zletovo must report pollution emissions to the State Inspectorate each month. They must also qualify for an environmental technological certificate that protects the public from pollution. This battery factory has operated for more than 20 years without this certificate.

The team of managers at the Zletovo factory have promised that they will respect the solution of the State Inspectorate. The director of production in the Zletovo smelter, Vasil Sazdov, says that they will do everything thaty can to make a change and to restart with a solution that works. He presumes that they can restart the production after a few days.

After the appeal of parents of an ill child, officials at the State Inspectorate last week finished their research about pollution in Veles, The parents had asked the Ministry of Environment to close the Zletovo smelter, because the analysis from a Russian clinic for genetic research shows that the hair of their child contains seven times the permitted levels of cadmium and lead.

The new research report published yesterday says that the factory must stop production because its emission of sulfur dioxide is more than 50 kilograms in one hour during that part of the production process called “sinter.”

As a result of the “Kiselina” or acid part of the production process, the researchers said that concentrations of cadmium are half again more than permitted.

Not everyone agrees that the Zletovo battery factory pollutes the environment of Veles. For the past few weeks, the director of the Institution for Health Protection, Blagoja Aleksoski, has said that Veles is not a polluted town. He said there is no evidence that the Zletovo smelter had polluted the town on any particular date, and remarked that mortality in Veles is not very high.

On the question of why the Ministry of Environment has not previously researched this issue, Aleksoski said that nobody from Macedonia authority has given them the right to do this kind of research.