Pollution from the Topilnica smelter, Veles, Macedonia

A 30-years-old closed zinc and lead smelting factory -one of the environmental hotspots in Macedonia- will finally stop polluting Veles.

The 30 years old zinc and lead smelting factory "Topilnica" (MHK – Zletovo – Veles) in the City of Veles is one of the environmental hot spots in Macedonia due to its historical air and soil pollution. Moreover, the factory is located only 1,5 km from the city center. In 2001 the World Health Organization pinpointed Veles as one of the most polluted towns in the world. The factory production line was closed in 2003 after going bankrupt and under public pressure following a large women's march on 8th of March 2003. The remaining slag was disposed on a site close to the smelter. The European Agency for Reconstruction’s study “Development of Remediation Plans with Financial Requirements for Elimination of Industrial Hot Spots - Volume Two” from December 2007, indicates existence of 1,8 Mio Mg of zinc and lead at the disposal site that is only partly covered and therefore the source of air emissions and contaminated leakage in the nearby Vardar River. Moreover, lead, zinc and cadmium are found accumulated in the soil of agricultural land and public areas, as well as in the food produced on this soil. Luckily, due to the low mobility of these heavy metals, most of the pollution remained in the soil and has not contaminated groundwater. The same study indicates the necessity of decontamination of the soil of contaminated public “green” areas as well as agriculture land, the re- and/or decommissioning of the existing facility, and the remediation of the existing slag dump site. The Ministry of Environment confirmed these plans and stressed the need of large investments as the main obstacle to their implementation. In 2006 Metrudhem DOOEL Skopje bought Topilnica. The factory’s assembly of creditors accepted Metrudhem’s bid of USD 2,890,000 to restart the smelting plant. Another bid (50 percent higher than Metrudhem’s) was proposed by the Turkish Company Yalim Dis Ticaret to build a shopping center on the same location. However, the Metrudhem proposal was accepted. This ended up in the lawsuit against the state filed on May 30th 2008 by the Municipality of Veles and several environmental NGOs who created a "Green Coalition". The opponents of reopening Topilnica demanded from the state to remove the risk of the occurrence of future and permanent damages pursuant to article 143 Request to eliminate the risk of damage of The Law on Obligations. On June 10th 2008, local activists, environmentalists, and local self-government organised a big protest in Veles, followed by the second big protest in November 2011 after the court found the state free of charges. Moreover, in a public survey in 2010 organised by Green Coalition in the city of Veles, 93% of the responded were against the factory reopening. The local self-government is trying to find solutions to stop the restarting of the facility. One of their activities was deleting the factory from the Detailed Urban Plan of the City of Veles in April 2014. This was legally possible due to the fact that the factory installation has been closed for more than three years.  Such decision secured the permanent closure of the smelter. However, the problem with pollution originated from the factory slag disposal site remained. In March 2016, Macedonian company Ekocentar 97 won a 10 years long concession over exploitation of the site -host to 1.7 million tons of slag containing 8% of zinc, 1% percent lead, and some cadmium-.  
Basic Data
NamePollution from the Topilnica smelter, Veles, Macedonia
CountryMacedonia, FYR
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Metal refineries
Specific CommoditiesLead
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
Surface of dumpsite: 33.000 m2.
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Project Area (in hectares)42,745
Level of Investment (in USD)2,890,000
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population55,108
Start Date2006
End Date03/2016
Company Names or State EnterprisesMetrudhem DOOEL Skopje (Metrudhem) from Macedonia, FYR - Investor in the smelter reopening
Ekocentar 97 from Macedonia, FYR - Holder of a 10 years concession to exploit the smelter slag disposal site
Relevant government actorsThe Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning of Macedonia
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersZelena Koalicja-Green Coaliton; Еcological association "Vila Zora" http://www.vilazora.org.mk/
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Groundwater pollution or depletion
OtherThe vegetables produced close by the factory site contained five times bigger content of metal cadmium than allowed 0.3 milligrams.
Health ImpactsVisible: Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
OtherRespiratory diseases and cancers; malformation in newborns
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement
OtherLack of competitiveness of local producers and sellers of fruit and vegetable.
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Changes in the Urban Plan of the City of Veles- deleting the factory
Development of AlternativesThe local government and activists managed to stop the factory reopening by introducing the changes in the Urban Plan of the City of Veles. They also demanded cleaning up of the slag disposal site.
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.The factory will not be reopened, while slag disposal site will be cleaned in 2 to 3 years by the company Ekocentar 97.
Sources and Materials

The Law on Obligations
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Soil Protection Activities and Soil Quality Monitoring in South Eastern Europe
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The Smelter of Veles
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FYR Macedonia Puts Lead Foot Down on Veles Smelter
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Macedonians Protest Against 'Killer' Smelter
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Macedonia Town Raises Funds for Lawsuit Against State
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Macedonia’s Metrudhem Plans to Invest $150 Mln to Restart Lead/Zinc Smelter
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Macedonian Govt Offers To Help Relocate Veles-based Lead/Zinc Smelter
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Platform “Green Macedonia”
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Macedonia: Mobilizing Against Veles Lead Smelting Factory
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Анкета велешани и кажаа НЕ на топилница
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Environment minister, Metrudhem officials discuss Veles smelting plant
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Еколошки бомби во Македонија: Како Велешката топилница не труе сите
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Dodelena koncesija za otstranuvanje na zgurata od teshki metali od veleshkata topilnica
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Велес на прагот да го реши проблемот со загадувањето
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Еколошки бомби: Згурата на Топилницата во Велес може да се излизга во река
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Media Links

A1 Topilnica.wmv
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Topilnica Good Veles Kaput video #1
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Veles Makedonia - Topilnica good -Veles Kaput #2
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НЕ за рестарт на Топилницата! СИТЕ НА ПРОТЕСТ
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Protesti vo Veles protiv Topilnica (10.06.2008)
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Protest protiv restartiranje na Topilnica 09.11.2011.mpg
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Platen danokot za topilnicata vo Veles!
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Против рестартирање на топилницата во Велес
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Димовски: На Велес повеќе не му треба загадување
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Smelter Good - Veles Kaput!
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Macedonia: Mobilizing Against Veles Lead Smelting Factory
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Троската од Велешката топилница се изнамува за експлоатација
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Other Documents

Protest against Topilnica Green power (member of Green coalition) against reopening Topilnica
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Protests against Topilnica-Veles The sign reads: "Topilnica Never More!"
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Meta Information
ContributorJovanka Spiric, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, vankajo(at)gmail.com
Last update05/05/2016