UN Environment lays the groundwork for cleaner soil in Serbia

  • Over 700 contaminated and potentially contaminated throughout the country, while 14 sites have been prioritized for remediation

Belgrade - 7 October 2019 – Fourteen former industrial sites have been shortlisted for remediation under the first ever such nationwide effort to improve land management in the Republic of Serbia.

Decades of industrial activity, combined with improper waste disposal infrastructure, have left a hazardous legacy of contaminated soils in the country. Hundreds of sites have been polluted by heavy metals and potential carcinogens such as zinc, copper, lead, mercury, as well as confirmed carcinogens such as chromium or cadmium – posing a variety of environmental and health risks.

The polluted sites are often located close to urban areas and rivers. Organic pollutants and metals can leach into the soil, affecting food and water and risking biodiversity loss.

In order to address these threats and to reduce the risks of humans being exposed to them, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has provided analysed soil, water and sediment for 32 sites and delivered trainings so that local authorities could monitor soil quality and submit data to the country’s environmental authorities. Officials have also been trained to set criteria for deciding which sites should be prioritized for clean-up, putting the Serbian government in good stead for further clean-up actions. An interactive hotspot map has been created to help manage data for polluted sites, and a national platform set up to share information on land degradation and sustainable land management.

“Healthy soil is central to many aspects of our daily lives, from safe food to a healthy place to live and play,” says Hans Schodder, UN Resident Coordinator a.i in Serbia. “We are proud to have helped Serbia map contaminated soil sites for rehabilitation, supporting the country onto a cleaner path for its citizens and nature”.

“Thanks to this project, we have a better idea of the scale and type of contamination faced. Serbia can now conduct more detailed investigations into individual polluted sites, carry out the transparent disposal of hazardous waste and ease its burden on our natural environment,“ says Dr Milan Milutinović of Belgrade’s Institute of Public Health.

“Not only have we been able to carry out soil sampling and learned to apply new methodologies for risk assessment - the project has also helped us to ensure better cooperation between all levels of government,” says Filip Radović, Director of the Serbian Environmental Protection Agency. “The Republic of Serbia has made the first step in setting priorities for soil remediation, with a lot more work ahead in this area that will require additional support,” he underlined, adding that “the purchases of soil analysis instruments, protective field equipment and software by the Italian Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea has also made a major difference”.

The project – which is being officially closed at a meeting in Belgrade today - was funded by the Global Environment Facility and the Italian Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea.

The list of 14 priority sites includes areas in and surrounding chemical factories and heavy industry. Subject to further funding, the project’s next steps will be to remediate degraded hotspots, improve soil quality and reduce the impact of pollution on the ecosystem and human health.

In the long term, the aim is for contaminated sites to be safely managed and soil quality monitored - especially in industrial, mining, power production and agricultural areas, which are major economic drivers in Serbia.

Note to editors:

The ‘Enhanced cross-sectoral land management through land use pressure reduction and planning’ project was launched in September 2015. The project was carried out by the UN Environment Programme together with the Serbian Ministry of Environmental Protection and the country’s Environmental Protection Agency.

UNEP supports national efforts to improve soil quality under its ecosystem management work area. Healthy soils support plant and animal diversity, regulate water flow, filter pollutants and help to store and cycle nutrients.

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UN entities involved in this initiative
UN Environment
United Nations Environment Programme