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UN sees environmental risks from Balkan mines

Many Balkan mining operations bear “serious environmental risks” like the plant in Hungary that released a flood of toxic mud, the United Nations said on Friday after checking 150 mines in the region.

“Since 2006, we have analysed all of the mines in southeast Europe. We logged 150 sites and unfortunately most of them represent serious environmental risks,” UN Environment Programme spokeswoman Isabelle Valentiny said.

“The region of southeast Europe (Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo) is full of sites that were in many cases abandoned during the conflict in former Yugoslavia and which were not properly closed,” she said.

Usually mine operators must follow a series of regulations for closing a site to avoid pollution risks, such as ensuring that structures are stable and treating contaminated water.

“All of that has not been done and now there are hundreds of abandoned sites that don’t even have owners,” Valentiny said.

Consequently, the air and water at some sites were “really very seriously” dangerous to the health of people.

“We have for years been calling for all sites to be monitored and the Hungarian accident unfortunately showed that it was a priority,” the spokeswoman said.

She said that the UN had in particular singled out and dealt with two sites in Albania where heavy metals were seeping into rivers.

On October 4, a reservoir of toxic residue at the plant in Ajka, 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Budapest, burst, releasing a torrent of toxic sludge through surrounding villages.