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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK
Albania's environmental wasteland
Durres
People live in the ruins of contaminated factories
Thousands of Albanians are being poisoned on a daily basis by fatal toxins in their environment, a United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) report has revealed.

Map of Albania
Toxic levels thousands of times higher than those permitted in EU states were found on land where children play, vegetables are grown and animals graze.

Even the experts involved in the study were said to be shocked by the extent of the pollution.

They have identified five "hotspots" which they say need immediate attention and another four they consider urgent.

The lives of several thousand children and adults estimated to live in and around one of the hotspots, Durres, are said to be in grave danger.

A chemical plant at Durres produced pesticides and chemicals for leather tanning until it was closed in 1990.

UN testing
UN experts have issued alerts
People, many of them refugees arriving in the town from Kosovo or from even more poverty-stricken parts of Albania, have salvaged bricks from the factory for their homes.

But these are contaminated, meaning they constantly live in an atmosphere of overwhelming toxic poisons, the report says.

In water from one well on the site levels of chlorobenzene - a toxin that affects the nervous system, bone marrow, liver, kidneys, blood and reproductive organs - were found to be over 4,000 times the acceptable level of some European Union countries.

Milk from cows grazing on the land produced high levels of a toxin which causes liver cancer and affects the kidneys and immune system.

Hotspots
Durres: Thousands of refugees living in toxic contamination
Vlore: Families and animals living in very hazardous mercury contamination
Patos: Contaminated groundwater, sulphurous gas and hydrocarbon air pollution
Ballsh: Oil emissions into environment contamination of local water supplies
Sharra: Toxic smoke and dust from burning rubbish
But rather than trying to persuade people to move out of the poison zone, the municipality has begun laying foundations for a building to house them there.

Another cause for grave concern was the former PVC factory at Vlore, where soil samples showed mercury contamination 1,000 times the level permitted by the EU.

Mercury exposure can cause permanent damage to the brain, kidneys and lungs but about 180 families live there.

They graze their animals on the toxic land and feed their families with vegetables grown on it.

Although the government reportedly tried to stop people living there, these attempts have been unsuccessful.

Now it supplies the families with drinking water and sells them contaminated scrap metal and bricks from the factory.

The Sharra rubbish tip which serves the capital, Tirana, is also poisoning the people of Albania.

Dense smoke laden with toxic dust from rubbish burnt at the dump billows for miles around.

Unep has urged the Albanian authorities to take urgent measures to start dealing with its catastrophic catalogue of environmental degradation, and is urging the international community to take notice.

Albania, which has suffered from instability verging on anarchy for the past 10 years and is reeling under the burden of refugees from Kosovo, lacks funds to deal with problems on this scale.

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See also:

02 Apr 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Albania
02 Feb 01 | Europe
Timeline: Albania
10 Mar 01 | Europe
Albania warns of Balkan crisis
06 May 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Picking up the pieces in Albania
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