UN warns Kosovo Serb lead smelter poisoning air

PRISTINA, Aug 9, 2000 -- (Reuters) The United Nations warned on Tuesday that a Serb-run lead smelter was poisoning the air in northern Kosovo and said it had started a campaign to warn of the dangers to health.

The Zvecan smelter was pumping out fumes containing five times more lead than the level considered very dangerous by a World Health Organization report in 1992, said Mike Keats, a UN spokesman in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica.

Zvecan forms part of the giant Trepca mining complex which straddles the ethnic divide in the city of Mitrovica, which is half-run by Serbs and half-occupied by ethnic Albanians.

"The smelter plant is operating without proper environmental and health controls," said Keats. "The fumes are not going up the chimney which has a converter and instead they are pumping raw residues over Zvecan and Mitrovica," he added.

The French and Danish defense ministries have complained about the threat to the health of their troops, who work in the area as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping operation guarding the province since Serb forces were pushed out in July 1999.

The Trepca group consists of 14 lead and zinc mines, nine flotation plants, two metallurgy plants and 14 factories. The complex is the largest zinc metallurgy operation in Europe.

Keats said pollution levels had risen alarmingly since Serb workers restarted the lead smelter in June.

UN officials, who are responsible for Kosovo's economy under post-conflict Security Council resolutions, had been in contact with plant managers and were hopeful steps would be taken to remedy the situation, he added.

"We are hoping that everyone acts responsibly," he said.

Serbs were pushed out of southern Mitrovica after the 78-day NATO bombing campaign but held onto the north of the city, forming the largest concentration of Serbs remaining in Kosovo.

Their tenacious hold on the north bank of the River Ibar, a refusal to allow ethnic Albanians to return to their homes and their sporadic attacks on non-Serbs living in their midst have left the city volatile and prone to sudden upsurges of violence.

Keats said cases of lead poisoning were beginning to appear and doctors and nurses were being advised of the symptoms.

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