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Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 17:43 GMT 18:43 UK
Life on Albania's toxic dump
Woman digging in the earth
When factories collapsed, people moved on to the land
Matthew Price

No one is doing anything for the people of Porto Romana. And they need to. Quickly.

Map of Albania
Here, scientists say, levels of toxic chemicals are up to 4,000 times higher than most European Union countries agree is safe. And there are thousands of people living in the area.

The problem stems from the former chemical factories at Porto Romana, just south of Albania's second city, Durres.

They produced toxic chemicals like lindane - a pesticide that most countries ban, because it is so dangerous.

Ada, child playing on the dump
Ada: Nowhere else to go
Chromium-6 was also made here. You can smell the toxic chemicals as you drive up to the town. Within minutes the back of your throat is dry, and you have a headache.

For the people living here, it is, of course, worse. Children play in the old factories.

Some complain of skin problems.

Doctors worried

One eight-year-old girl, Ada, was throwing rocks into the large puddles at the site when I was there. The puddles are yellow because of the chemicals in them.

They live in an area contaminated with poisons... Cancer will be a problem

Behar Musabelliu, doctor
"We have nowhere else to play. I am a little worried about the chemicals, but what else can we do?" she said

Then she shrugged her shoulders, and carried on playing.

Doctors here are worried. There are no immediate signs of illness among people living here. But the long term effects are potentially very harmful.

"The younger generations are especially vulnerable," Doctor Behar Musabelliu from the local health clinic told me.

"They live in an area contaminated with poisons. It affects the nervous system. The girls will have miscarriages, they will have lung problems. And cancer will be a problem too."

Weak state

It is all a legacy of the problems Albania experienced in the 1990s.

Sheep grazing
Food is contaminated too
When the state collapsed, factories like these were left to crumble. There was no one to guarantee the safe disposal of the chemicals.

To make matters worse, thousands of people moved into the area, taking advantage of the free land around the site.

In the local shop a woman told me why so many live here.

"The people are poor. We can't afford to go anywhere else. When the children get sick we go to the doctors. We try to treat them, then we come back here," she said.

Sheep graze in the area, so the food people eat is contaminated too.

Cash shortage

And, says Professor Besnik Baraj from the University of Tirana, the chemicals are spreading.

"This is not dangerous only for the people living here, because the rain coming through this area gets the chemicals and moves them elsewhere."

Woman digging
People cannot afford to leave
He says the chemicals are running into the nearby Adriatic sea, and are harming marine life. Fish eaten in Albania and across the sea in Italy will be affected he says.

Albania's poverty stricken present and chaotic past have created similar problems across the country. There are many instances of children born with deformities.

The United Nations, which has conducted a survey at Porto Romana described it as an "environmental disaster area".

It says it would cost around $10m to clean it up. But that's money the government in Albania doesn't have.

And those living here are unwilling to go. Here at least they have jobs, and homes which they can afford.

Even if it is costing them their health.

See also:

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06 May 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
03 Aug 02 | Country profiles
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