June 10, 2000 International Tribunal for U.S./NATO War Crimes in YugoslaviaEcological and Health Consequences of the NATO Bombings of Pancevo and other Petrochemical and Chemical Industrial Complexes
By Dr. Janet Eaton
Dr. Janet M. Eaton, PhD, Biologist, Researcher, Educator, Part-time academic, and co-founder of the Institute for Global Creative Perspective. The following are excerpts that duplicate Dr. Eatons spoken testimony, from a longer paper Dr. Eaton has written.
This testimony provides evidence that the NATO bombings of Pancevo and other related industrial complexes created an environmental catastrophe which pose a serious threat to human health, the immediate environment and ecosystems of the broader Balkan region; that NATO's aggressive actions were carried out with full awareness of the impact they would have on the environment and peoples of the region. In addition NATO flagrantly violated international agreements put in place to protect human rights, and the environment during war and in general.
Within the first few weeks of the NATO war against Yugoslavia informed scientific warnings of a pending "ecological catastrophe" echoed through cyberspace and continued throughout the war to alert the public to possible long term destruction of the environment, the eco-destruction of Yugoslavia, ecocide, a great environmental catastrophe for the entire Balkan region, and indeed the possible risk to all of Europe.
Why did the NATO bombings exact such a degree of dire ecological concern and outcry?
A July 15 review and analysis of over 80 news releases, articles and papers compiled and summarized in "Ecological Catastrophe and Health Hazards of NATO
Bombings" (1) suggested that the alarming outcry of "Ecological Catastrophe "was related to two major causes among others. [a] the bombing of chemical, petrochemical and pharmaceutical plants releasing thousands of tons of noxious contaminants into the atmosphere, soils, ground water and rivers and [b] NATO's confirmed use depleted uranium (DU) weapons. (2)
Bombing Pancevo with Intent
When reports emerged that NATO was bombing industrial complexes in major urban centers, news releases began to emerge which resounded with horror and disbelief that an innocent civilian population, the environment and indeed entire ecosystems of one of the most bio-diverse regions of all Europe would be threatened, potentially for generations to come, with volumes of toxic materials known to be highly hazardous to human health and devastating to the integrity of ecosystems and bio-diversity. In particular the bombing and subsequent burning of the sprawling Pancevo Petrochemical Complex, on April 18, which unleashed a dense, massive toxic black cloud which drifted for days across the Balkans provided incontrovertible incriminating evidence of NATO'S abhorrent actions.
That NATO strategists were well informed of the layout and design of Pancevo is well known for as several news reports and analyses of the war have noted the Pancevo complex had been built with the assistance of a U.S. multinational company, which specialized in petrochemical and polymer plants.
That NATO bombed with the intent to create an environmental disaster and to threaten Belgrade into submission can also be further inferred from damning evidence unearthed by Professor Michel Chossudovsky. In his post-war visit to Pancevo, Professor Chossudovsky spoke with the Pancevo Plant manager and saw and gathered first hand evidence that on April 18 NATO selectively bombed holding tanks which contained highly toxic chemicals of a non -military nature while ignoring those tanks which had been emptied by the workers to avoid combustion from bombing attacks.
Thermal-sensitive satellite imagery along with smart bombs make possible such precise targeting which conversely would have allowed NATO to disable the plant without the devastating consequence to the environment and human health. Instead NATO bombed with intent to threaten the entire population of the Pancevo/Belgrade area and beyond. Indeed but for a quirk of meteorological fate which blew the thick dense mile-long black cloud from the Pancevo bombings in a northwesterly direction, the entire city of Belgrade would have been subject to the deadly black cloud of toxins which hovered just above the city.
Whereas the final destruction of Pancevo was the single most brutal assault on the human population, there were daily attacks on the chemical industry all over Serbia. These bombings caused uncontrolled spilling, spreading, evaporation and sublimation of huge quantities of toxic substances as well as the burning, combustion, and incomplete combustion of inflammable materials. All told huge volumes of carcinogenic, allergenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic toxic substances were transmitted into the environment and ecosystems of Yugoslavia.
Human Health Consequences
Dr. Radoje Lausevic, of the University of Belgrade and the Serbian Ecological Society, in his "Overview of Ecological Consequences of NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia," recorded the following chemicals and substances that were released into the atmosphere, water and soil: Oils and petroleum products, polychlorinated biphenyles (PCB's) ammonia, ethylene dichloride, sodium hydoxide, hydrogen chloride (1,000 tons released into the river) , vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) (1,000 tons released), phosgene, nitrogen oxides, hydrofluoric acid, heavy metals, as well as products from incomplete combustion such as carbon monoxide, aldehydes, and soot and particulates. In this comprehensive overview Dr. Lausevic also reviewed the health consequences and known limits for human tolerance of each of the substances:
"Polluting substances endanger the population directly through several mediums: air, water and food, but one should not neglect the indirect influence stemming from the chemical transformation of pollutants, which can result in the increase or in the reduction of their toxicity, as well as from the fact that they tend to accumulate -most often in geological formations or in the biosphere."
After the April 17 and 18 bombings, thousands of people fled the city, coughing and complaining of burning eyes, stomach pain and choking. A report in the Regional Environment Center's Bulletin "After the War" noted that according to Yugoslav estimates some 70,000 people were endangered locally - poisoned, injured and /or evacuated.
An IAC background research paper citing the health risks caused by NATOs assault against Yugoslavia, reported that in Pancevo the risks were considered so great that doctors in the Belgrade suburb recommended that all women who were in the town the night of April 18 avoid pregnancy for at least the next two years. Women who were less than nine weeks pregnant in mid-April were advised to get abortions. (8)
Measurements made immediately after the bombings of Pancevo in particular showed levels of many toxic chemicals in the air at several thousand times the tolerable limits for humans. In the case of the highly hazardous vinyl chloride monomer, a concentration of 10,600 times above permitted levels was recorded near Pancevo, according to a press release from Belgrade's Institute of Public Health.
A July 14 New York Times news release further echoed the dire effects of the NATO bombings on the human population:
"Farm workers, plunging their fingers into the earth, say they come away with rashes that burn and blister. Those who eat the river fish and vegetables or drink the tap water, which trickles out of faucets because of the damage to the purification plant, come down with diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps. .. Children still suffer headaches and dizziness. . There are twice as many miscarriages as during this period last year, doctors here said." (9)
That air pollution was a devastating consequence of the bombings is evident from the testimonies of the effects on human health above. Other airborne impacts were the acid rains, which were measured in several adjacent countries for indeed such widespread contamination knows no boundaries.
Soil contamination directly from chemical spills and indirectly from the settling out of substances carried in the black clouds also threatened the environment. The Regional Environment Center (REC) for Central and Eastern Europe in their post-war study "Assessment of the Environmental Impact of Military Activity during the Yugoslav conflict" reported that 2.5 million hectares of land were pulled from production to prevent corn, sunflower, soy, and sugar-beet crops from being contaminated by petrochemical clouds and other pollutants created when oil refineries and fertilizer plants were hit in Pancevo, Sombor and Novi Sad.
In addition the Swiss-based humanitarian and scientific group FOCUS conducting independent investigations in the region estimated that mercury spills at Pancevo had contaminated an area of 20,000 square miles including 4,000 cubic meters of soil around the catchment channel area.
In addition to air and soil pollution, the contamination of water supplies was a major cause for concern from the earliest days of the War. In an April 7th Environmental News Service release Branko Jovanovic, a leader of the Yugoslavian New Green Party, said that NATO bombing of Yugoslavia was endangering the entire environment of Europe. "I warn you that Serbia is one of the greatest sources of underground waters in Europe and that the contamination will be felt in the whole surrounding area all the way to the Black Sea."
I ask the judges here today to join with me in condemning NATO's actions and flagrant violations and I encourage all of us here today, all those citizens in the new emerging grass-roots global movement and indeed leaders around the world to move forth in the 21st century with commitment and resolve to end the "scourge of war" and in so doing to truly make human rights, peace, and the viability of the world's ecosystems a priority for the new millennium. For indeed the manner in which these unconscionable and illegal actions and their consequences are addressed will determine the fate, not only of the environment, ecosystems and peoples of the Balkans but may well determine the fate and future of humanity, and this planet.
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