Fire at a landfill provokes public revolt – Belgrade still covered in poisonous smoke

While the city authorities send calming messages, opposition movements and environmental associations demand accountability and resignations of the responsible authorities

Belgrade has been shrouded in poisonous smoke from the landfill in Vinča since Saturday night. The fire broke out on Saturday afternoon and engulfed about five acres of landfill. Thanks to meteorological conditions, smoke can be felt and seen in a larger part of the city, with Vinča settlement being the most polluted. Sunday afternoon AirVisual app showed about four times higher level of PM 2.5 particles than allowed. It is assumed that the smoke also contains carcinogenic particles.

On Sunday, mayor of Belgrade Zoran Radojicic conveyed to the citizens a message on behalf of the experts from the Institute of Public Health of Belgrade, recommending that the citizens “close their windows and do not go outside unnecessarily as long as they can smell the smoke”. He also stated that “there is no room for fear and panic”, assuring the population of the capital that the pollution is episodic and that the fire is under control.

Deputy mayor Goran Vesić also stated on Sunday that extinguishing the fire would take several days, but that things were under control, emphasizing that the spread of the fire had been prevented.

Numerous social movements and associations, however, believe that the city authorities did not in fact react adequately because they failed to timely inform the citizens about the fire and the danger it represented to public health.

Activists of the movement Don’t Let Belgrade D(r)own (NDMBG) visited the location on Sunday in the company of Viola von Cramon, Member of the European Parliament from the group of European Greens. As Radomir Lazović stated for Mašina, they decided to do so due to the lack of information about the happenings at the landfill.

“In the conversation we had with the fire-fighters, we received confirmation that the fire is not under control. It is localized, but neither the fire-fighters nor the mechanization that should cover the burning part of the landfill with earth and suffocate the flames can’t approach the fire. This is very important because it means that the pollution will spread for days as the wind carries it around. We thanked the fire-fighters for their efforts to prevent the fire from spreading to settlements or low vegetation”, said Lazović.

As NDMBG points out in a statement they issued on this occasion, in addition to fine PM particles the fire also releases more dangerous, carcinogenic substances into the air, such as furan and dioxin, whose concentrations are not even measured in Serbia. NDMBG demands from the competent institutions to immediately explain what caused the fire, issue guidelines on how the citizens should behave and how they can protect themselves, and introduce an emergency situation in Belgrade.

Environmental organizations and citizens’ associations gathered around the Ecological Uprising also expressed that they were revolted with the fact that the city and republic authorities did not fulfil their duty to immediately inform the citizens about the scale of this “toxic incident”, as they referred to it in a press release. Over twenty organizations belonging to the Ecological Uprising network therefore demand that citizens be timely informed about all issues related to such dangers in the future, announcing that otherwise they will file criminal charges based on violations of the Air Protection Law and the Regulation on Monitoring Conditions and Air Quality Requirements. They also demanded that the City Institute for Health Protection “issue a statement regarding the potential dangers to the health of the inhabitants of the City of Belgrade.”

The Solidarity political platform is demanding resignations of the mayor of Belgrade and his associates.

“The city authorities are not new at being irresponsible, but the scale of the catastrophe that has befallen Belgrade is now so great that in addition to resignations, we demand from the competent authorities to initiate an investigation against the persons who decided to remain silent about air toxicity and leave the citizens of Belgrade in the dark and exposed to great danger”, state the members of Solidarity via social networks.

Solidarity reminded the public that every year more than 7,000 people in Serbia die before their time because of air pollution.

As Mašina wrote earlier, air quality in Serbian cities is constantly deteriorating. At the beginning of the year, a “Protest for Safe Air” was held, at which environmental associations demanded that the Government respect the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, which by Article 74 guarantees citizens the right to a healthy environment and timely and complete information about its condition. At this occasion environmental associations also called for the persons legally responsible for incorrect informing on air pollution issues to face court.


Translation: Iskra Krstić

This article was ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED in Serbian on Aug 9, 2021.


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