There are no warning signs, the landfill hasn’t been fenced off, there is no people presence in the surroundings, but there is an access dirt road to the landfill, where goat and sheep droppings can be seen. Those are some of the findings in the proceedings of the field inspection conducted by the State Environmental Inspectorate (DIZS) of North Macedonia on the 4th of August 2022, after Meta.mk wrote about the forgotten gypsum landfill near the village of Zgropolci in the Veles region, which is considered one of the country’s environmental hot spots.
“The landfill of the former artificial fertilizers factory HIV Veles is a contaminated area i.e. a hot spot, with an area of 70,000 m2. It contains 3,700,000 tons of phosphogypsum, which is a waste product of the artificial fertilizers production. The phosphogypsum has a characteristic white color and it had been deposited in the landfill in the period between 1979 and 2003, when the factory stopped production and the depositing of the waste materials also stopped,” state the Inspection’s Proceedings that was shared with Meta.mk.
The waste gypsum had been deposited both on sloping surfaces and on flat area, while the landfill’s flat ground can be accessed from the old road between Veles and Gradsko. The landfill’s surrounding area is hilly, DIZS writes.
“The access to the landfill’s slopes is difficult and is preventing a proper field inspection i.e. the location poses risks for a field inspection and this is why only the flat area was inspected. The inspection of the slope was conducted from distance. This is logical, as the waste had been deposited at the location from the HIV plant through a pipeline,”DIZS explains.
About the area that was inspected thoroughly, the inspection noted that the location is unmarked, without a warning board about a contaminated area containing industrial waste. Also, the location’s perimeter wasn’t fenced, but there is a green belt with evergreen and deciduous trees that serve as a buffer zone. The landfill’s surrounding area is uninhabited and the nearest populated area, the village of Kochilari is 1.5 km away,” DIZS stated.
However, during the inspection it was determined that across the access road to the landfill’s flat ground there were traces of animal dump (sheep or goat), which means that sheep and goat folds are passing nearby.
The inspection proceedings state that small cracks in the landfill’s body were evident, most likely caused by atmospheric influences, but there is no other information about the movement of the atmospheric waters that are passing through the landfill with waste gypsum.
“in landfill’s flat area phosphogypsum powder is deposited and it is covered with thin soil layer all over its surface, most likely due to the atmospheric influences (wind and rain). The deposited phosphogypsum that is in piles is in more solid state. Due to stable weather conditions during the inspection, there wasn’t any visible emission of gypsum powder scatering in the surrounding areas, but in windy weather, it can be carried by the ambient air,” DIZS explains.
Apart from the gypsum, the landfill also contains accompanying minerals (quartz, feldspar, etc.). The inspection also showed that the deposited phosphogypsum contains natural radionuclides, but an examination wasn’t conducted to determine the quantities and the influence of radionuclides on the environment.
Meta.mk queried the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning about the dangers from the waste gypsum’s radioactivity near the village of Zgropolci. The ministry replied that the Radiation Safety Directorate has authority onn over all matters concerning the waste gypsum landfill. The Directorate said that the last radioactivity measuring was conducted by the Radioecology Laboratory of the Public Health Institute (PHi) and it has shown that the radionuclides quantities at the landfill are within the permitted limits, so the Radiation Safety Directorate is treating the location as a chemical landfill and the authority rests on the Ministry of Environment.
Nevertheless, more than a decade and a half ago there had been an initiative for exporting the waste gypsum to Slovenia for its reprocessing, but the export was stopped by Slovenia. In the inspection proceedings, DIZS wrote that the landfill near Zgropolci is one of the 16 environmental hot spots, which are state obligation, but it was deemed a low-level risk to the environment and has therefore been ranked as “low priority.”
What remains unknown is how the problem with the waste gypsum landfill near Zgropolci could be solved, since the state institutions blame one another about the responsibility for this location. A document from 2005 estimates that the cleansing of this location would cost €700 000, which is cheaper than the remediation of other contaminated areas in the country. However, seen from today’s perspective, the amount necessary for the removal of this waste remains unknown.
Meta.mk went to the landfill near Zgropolci and made recordings in June. Even though there are no inhabitants in the near proximity and there is nor arable land near the landfill, DIZS has seen stockbreeders with their flocks who were passing by this location. In the surrounding villages the population is agriculturally highly active and the fields are planted with agricultural crops. Since the terrain at the landfill is hilly, the natural flow of atmospheric waters that are passing through the landfill is toward the old road between Veles and Gradsko and the Vardar River.