Renewables and Environmental Regulatory Institute (RERI) and the Association of Young Researchers from Bor (AYR Bor) submitted a request to the Ministry of Environmental Protection to initiate extraordinary inspection surveillance over Zijin Bor Copper d.o.o. due to the suspicion that high concentrations of arsenic in the air in 2021 in Bor are the consequence of ore processing in the copper smelter within their commercial-industrial complex. High concentrations of arsenic were also recorded during 2022, and at the end of January, the concentration of arsenic in the air was as much as 180 times higher than allowed.
The Law on Air Protection prohibits exceeding the prescribed values of the level of pollutants in the air, and the permitted average annual value for arsenic (total amount in suspended PM10 particles) is 6 ng/m3 However, the average annual value of arsenic concentration in Bor is many times higher than permitted at each of the city’s measuring station (Graph no. 1). Thus, according to the Report on Air Quality in Bor from 2021, the biggest overshoots were recorded at the Jugopetrol measuring station (Graph no. 2).
Who is responsible?
„Arsenic has always been a problem in Bor since arsenopyrite is an accompanying mineral of copper ore. The greater the smelting of copper ore with a high concentration of arsenic, the higher the concentrations of arsenic in the air.“ explains professor Snežana Šerbula, Head of the Department of Environmental Protection at the Technical Faculty in Bor, University of Belgrade.
Smelting of copper ore and the exploitation of ores of other ferrous, non-ferrous, precious and other metals are Zijin’s registered predominant activities. Bearing that in mind, it is clear that excessive emissions are a consequence of the company’s business activities.
The short-term action plan for reducing air pollution in the City of Bor was adopted in July 2021, but no funds were allocated from the city budget for its implementation in 2021. Almost ten months after the plan’s adoption, it did not lead to a decrease in the concentration of arsenic in the air.
In order to illustrate the harmfulness of arsenic, Dr Šerbula drew attention to the consequences of pollution of this substance on the living world: “The biomonitoring of medicinal plants was performed at the Technical Faculty in Bor – the plants are responding to the polluted environment is the same way as humans, the absorption of excess arsenic and heavy metals leads to severe damage and disease.
Inorganic arsenic can cause acute, sub-acute or chronic effects, (with an impact on the whole organism or with a local impact). Under conditions of inhalation exposure to arsenic, the critical health effect is lung cancer.
The official study Improving the Management of Contaminated Sites in Serbia, prepared by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Institute of Public Health of Serbia “Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut”, presented data on diseases suffered by the citizens of Bor, stating that “there is a significantly higher risk for all malignant tumours except skin tumours, risk of illness and death in both men and women in Bor. This pattern is observed for cancer of the bronchus and lungs, cancer of the liver, pancreas, kidney, bladder, colon and rectum, thyroid gland, lymphopoietic tissue, Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma… ”
RERI and the AYR Bor demand urgent implementation of extraordinary inspection surveillance, which will result in ordering the Zijin company to implement technical, technological and organisational measures for remediation of sources and causes of arsenic emissions from their plants.
Namely, if the inspector within the Ministry of Environmental Protection discovers illegalities he may order measures for their elimination, and may temporarily or permanently ban the work of plants recognized as pollution sources. The inspector may also initiate misdemeanour proceedings, proceedings for commercial offences and file a criminal report.
Based on the collected data, and in order to determine the responsibility for the excessive concentrations of arsenic in Bor, RERI and the AYR Bor will, if the competent inspection fails to undertake appropriate actions, initiate proceedings against all responsible.