Health groups call on the leaders of the Western Balkan countries to harmonize national air quality standards with the World Health Organization Global air quality guidelines. Health experts should be actively involved in these decision-making processes to ensure the timely integration of public health measures into environmental policies. Compliance with WHO recommendations brings multiple benefits – reduced incidence of chronic diseases and premature deaths, reduced overall health costs and, most importantly, better health and higher productivity of people.
The Institute of Public Health of Serbia, a HEAL member, recently published a study focusing on the public health threats of some of the most industrially contaminated areas in Serbia.
Coal mining and mineral processing continues to be a vital source of income in Serbia, but with grave consequences. Fumes from coal power plants contribute to air pollution, which is associated with unnecessarily high rates of premature death, chronic lung disease, heart conditions and asthma. Air quality in the Western Balkan countries is among the worst in Europe, harming the health of people on a daily basis. The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) report on the region calculated that coal plants in five Western Balkan countries create up to 8.5 EUR billion per year in health costs and 7,181 premature deaths per year in Europe.
The new study from the Institute of Public Health of Serbia adds to these figures, by concluding that the concentration of the heavy metal Arsenic in the air in the Serbian province of Bor exceeds the set limit value of 6 ng/m3 ten times, and five times in the province of Lazarevac. The latter region is home to the country’s largest coal mining and coal burning power plant.
Commenting on the new report, Vlatka Matkovic Puljic, Health and Energy Officer at HEAL said: “Reducing the level of heavy metals in the environment would lead to a reduction in the resulting risks to human health. Heavy metals can cause cancer and have been associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, while exposure in early childhood has been linked to negative impacts on cognitive development.”
“That is why it is important to develop and implement pollution control policies in Serbia and across Europe to ensure maximum emission reduction of live and other pollutants in the environment, thereby preserving public health.”
The full scientific paper is available online.