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Bombs Unleash Toxic Clouds Over Belgrade

Workers at the complex decided to release tons of carcinogens into the Danube to avoid the risk of an explosion
(ENS) BELGRADE -- A combined petrochemicals and fertilizer factory and oil refinery in the Belgrade suburbs was bombed by NATO forces April 15, releasing large amounts of toxics into the air and water.

toxic cloud Clouds of toxic gases enveloped the suburb of Pancevo, to the northwest of the city, and many people were injured by chemical inhalation. Local reports said the toxic clouds contained chlorine, hydrochloric acid and phosgene.

The general director of the HIP Petrohemija Pancevo, Dr. Ing. Slobodan Tresac, said, "Installations and equipment of the vinyl chloride monomer plant and ethylene plant were directly hit. Indirectly, heavy and destructive explosions damaged the chloralkali plant and polyvinyl chloride plant and buildings inside the complex, as well as a large number of civil houses and flats in the surrounding area."

The exact number of injured and victims of chemical inhalation is not known.

Pancevo lies on the river, and the toxics are expected to be carried into Romania and Bulgaria and down the Danube River into the Black Sea.

The plant is not making products for military use, but makes a range of products of an "extremely civil nature," Dr. Tresac said. Plants of this nature have never been considered military targets, he said.

However, the chemical components of fertilizers are often used in the manufacture of explosives.

Dr. Tresac reported that, "due to power failure and auxiliary fluids interruption a large quantity of combustible, explosive and toxic matters remained trapped in the equipment, installation and tanks. It will take a lot of time to drain and evacuate all those matters from the plants before the plants could be considered safe for a wide surrounding area."

"The fire broke out and huge quantities of toxic matters such as chlorine, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride monomer flowed out. The transformer stations were also heavily damaged and very toxic transformer oil flowed out.

According to the BBC, workers at the complex decided to release tons of carcinogenic ethylene dichloride into the Danube to avoid the risk of an explosion.

NATO planes also hit a chemical complex at Baric near Belgrade causing the evacuation of the entire town of Obrenovac.

Britain's Times newspaper quoted the Serbian Environment Minister saying the amount of carcinogenic matter in the air over Pancevo was 7,200 times above the permitted level.

© 1999 Environment News Service and reprinted with permission

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Albion Monitor April 20, 1999 (

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