Criminal charges to be filed over treatment of soil with gypsum

Celje/Slovenj Gradec – Four individuals and two legal entities are suspected of the criminal act of burdening and destroying the environment in relation to the dumping of over 500 tonnes of waste gypsum containing high levels of heavy metals on agricultural land in the northern region of Koroška.

Announcing the news on Tuesday, the Celje Police Department said that relevant criminal complaints will be filed, with the suspected individuals facing imprisonment.

This comes after several farmers in Koroška unwittingly polluted their fields with the white substance in April, while owners of plots who had not yet treated their fields with the substance were ordered to remove heaps of gypsum from their land.

Environmental inspectors established that the white substance deposited on farmland in the municipalities of Dravograd and Slovenj Gradec is waste gypsum likely originating in the glassmaking industry.

Unlike lime, which farmers use to manage soil acidity, this type of gypsum is not suitable to treat soil with as the farmers mistakenly thought.

The Celje Police Department said today that criminal investigators and police officers had recently carried out several house and personal searches based on a court order from Slovenj Gradec and steered by the local prosecutor’s office.

It has been established in cooperation with the relevant state bodies that the suspects had deposited over 500 tonnes of gypsum exclusively along the land owned by individual farmers under pretence that it was lime for neutralisation of soil.

This practice was carried out at least in the period between the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 in Koroška.

The relevant services sampled the substance to establish that it is calcium sulfate, whose essential feature is excessive lead content, up to 40 times more than the amount permitted to be introduced in the soil as a nutrient for plants.

The suspects thus endangered the lives of people and animals and caused a serious hazard of grave bodily harm or damage to the quality of soil or water, as they allowed heavy metals to enter the soil or groundwater and, consequently, the food chain.

This poses a major hazard to public health, the police said, adding that criminal complaints would be filed against the suspects at the state prosecutor’s office in Slovenj Gradec.

With environmental crime becoming increasingly sophisticated, the General Police Administration (GPU) is planning a new team of six members to investigate the most complex cases.

As Benjamin Franca from the criminal police at the GPU told public broadcaster Radio Slovenija, the team will investigate high-profile and demanding cases on its own or in collaboration with individual police departments offering assistance in extensive investigations.

The team will also be tasked with coordinating investigation of other acts of environmental crime and with preparing training for other police officers. Efforts will be made to improve cooperation with inspectors, prosecutors, the Financial Administration and NGOs.