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This article is the subject of a legal complaint made on behalf of ArcelorMittal. Global steel giant ArcelorMittal is failing to meet minimum environmental standards at its massive plant in central Bosnia, a Guardian Cities investigation has learned.
The vast Zenica steelworks is operating without valid permits and a number of pledged improvements to reduce emissions from the factory have not been made [see footnote]. But a decade on, much of this work has not been completed. As she speaks, a huge cloud of thick dust drifts overhead. Regimented rows of plums, peaches, pears and strawberries are covered in a thin film of grey ash. I bring it in on my shoes. It is killing us. Zenica is a city of around , dominated by steel.
The prevailing wind often carries carries fat reels of smoke and dust from the towering blast furnaces and needle-thin chimneys that puncture the skyline. On a bad day, even drawing a breath can be a struggle. Downtown, electronic displays erected atop the slate-grey communist-era apartment blocks measure the amount of sulphur dioxide SO2 in the air [see footnote].
In , levels of this toxic gas — which comes from burning coal — exceeded EU safe limits times. The Zenica steelworks first opened at the tail-end of the 19th century, when Bosnia-Herzegovina was a restive part of Austro-Hungarian empire. Under Marshal Tito , production boomed. Workers were recruited from all over the former Yugoslavia and even further afield.
Production ground to a halt during the Bosnian war , which began 25 years ago this April. The deal was widely welcomed in Zenica — in a city devastated by war and hardship, many saw this as a chance for work, a chance to return to normality. But prosperity has not returned to Zenica.