The Slovenia Times

Lead still in children's blood after 15-year mine remediation project

Health & Medicine

Mežica - The 15-year long programme to remediate the environment of the Upper Mežica Valley in the wake of its mining past is drawing to a close this year but traces of lead can still be found in children's blood. Thus a follow-on project will be required.

The valley in the north of the country still suffers from pollution with heavy metals after the Mežica lead and zinc mine was shut down in 1994 after more than 330 years of operation.

The local authorities in Mežica and Črna na Koroškem are happy with the measures taken under the remediation programme, which has cost the state EUR 14.4 million, but also say that further investments worth several more million euros are needed.

Tests of blood samples taken from three-year-olds in the two municipalities in spring have shown there is still lead in the children's blood.

The final results will be available later this month, but the Ravne unit of the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) says first results show the levels are low and in line with the trend over the past three years.

The goal that at least 95% of children should have levels below 100 microgrammes per litre of blood has thus been attained.

"There are still cases of children having higher levels, who require individual treatment," the Ravne NIJZ unit has told the STA.

However, the response to invitations for blood testing was not as good this year so that in the end they only collected results from half the invited children.

"The remediation programme is running out but considering the observations over the past 15 years it has largely achieved its goals," said the NIJZ.

However, the levels of blood in children from the Upper Mežica Valley are still substantially higher than those in their peers from the rest of the country, so they should be further reduced.

"Considering the observations, more should be done to reduce emissions of the existing industry, in particular end handling of polluted building materials, and restrict and monitor every manipulation of polluted soil.

"This means no more gardens with autochthonous soil and a specific regime for each building project," the NIJZ unit told the STA.

Educational and promotional campaigns will need to continue and the NIJZ would also like to keep a network of experts to support the locals.

"This means those who wish to do so can have their children's blood tested for lead levels, or have the soil or other material on their plot examined or seek an expert's advice."

Municipal authorities believe too that measures to reduce the environmental impact, including the amount of dust in the air, should be resumed and upgraded.

Representatives of the two affected municipalities will visit the Environment Ministry to discuss the situation after holidays.

In Mežica they estimate the cost of additional measures required at EUR 1.5-2 million and Črna na Koroškem Mayor Romana Lesjak says they are running short of EUR 5 million to complete remediation.

The measures would be similar to those taken so far, including replacement of contaminated soil, planting grass in public areas intended for children, resurfacing public areas where children move around, wet-cleaning public areas, creation of safe gardening sites and subsidising safe food.

Lesjak also points to heaps of mining material left that "have never been the subject of any programme, neither when the mine was being closed nor in the remediation programme". She also believes gravel roads should be paved.

The valley is also home to the battery plant Tab Mežica, who have assured the public their operations are in line with the environmental standards and legislation.


More from Health & Medicine