Bulgaria's Metallurgy, Chemical Plants Struggle To Meet EU Pollution Standards

Finding money for necessary reforms is difficult.

Metallurgy and chemical plants, the biggest environmental polluters in Bulgaria, are in a race against time to meet EU ecological norms ahead of joining the EU Union on January 1, 2007. The smoking chimney industries, former symbols of a "prosperous" communist-era economy, are now having to invest in environmentally-friendly technology to obtain an "environment permit" by the end of the year that will allow them to keep operating in the EU.

But finding the money is a problem for the old plants that were privatized several years ago on the brink of bankruptcy. "The metallurgy sector has already invested 2.0 billion leva (US$1.3 billion) to meet EU requirements and will spend an additional 1.5 billion leva in the next three years on environmental protection, work safety, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and improving competitiveness," Politimi Paunova, chairwoman of the metallurgy chamber said.

Only one of the big firms in the ferrous sector, Kremikovtzi Sofia, was given a transitional period until 2011 to implement its ecological investment program. Its owner, the Indian company Global Steel, recently announced plans to invest 321 million leva by the end of 2011 to meet environmental norms and qualify for the permit.

Plants in the non-ferrous sector, which are among the biggest polluters of air, water and soil, have not been given transitional periods. Non-ferrous metal production in Bulgaria is high, with an annual output of 250,000 tons of copper, 80,000 tons of lead and 100,000 tons of zinc - 50% of which goes to the EU.

The chemical industry, another big polluter, also says it was not given enough time to meet EU norms and its transitional periods ranging from 2008 and 2014 are too short, shorter in any case than in Romania, which will also join the EU in 2007. Chemical companies have already invested over a billion leva in environmental protection and are planning to invest 2.0 billion leva more to prepare for the EU, he added. In 2005, the chemical industry generated 11% of Bulgaria's industrial production.

Both the metallurgy and chemical firms can trade spare greenhouse gas credits under the Kyoto protocol to finance at least some of their restructuring and technological renovation. Under the protocol, industrialized countries agreed to bring emissions below 1990 levels by 2008-2012 and set up a system for trading spare credits with countries that exceed their Kyoto quotas.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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