Bulgaria's Lead Plant Shut over Pollution, Hopes for Swift Comeback
The lead production facility in the Lead and Zinc Complex in Bulgaria's Kardzhali has been closed down over its management's failure to comply with environmental regulations.
The Lead and Zinc Complex in Kardzhali, the leading Bulgarian non-ferrous metals producer, has repeatedly come under criticism for polluting the local environment and the nearby city by releasing in the atmosphere sulfur dioxide levels well above the allowed minimum. The problem was especially acute in the fall of 2009.
The plant CEO Slaveya Stoyanova was handed Monday the order for the closure of the manufacturing facility by the regional environmental authority in Haskovo.
"Even though in the past 2 years we reduced the output of lead by 40%, the sulfur purification installation failed to cope with the increased requirements, which led to this sad day," Stoyanova stated at a news conference in Kardzhali. She also announced that the owner of the Lead and Zinc Complex Valentin Zahariev met earlier on Monday with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Environment Minister Nona Karadzhova over the situation of the factory, whose closure will most likely leave 350 workers unemployed.
Borisov and Valentin Zahariev, chair of the Intertrust Holdings AD, the Bulgarian metal producer that controls the complex, have reached an agreement that the factory will be allowed to continue working if it manages to cope with its emissions of sulfur dioxide within a month.
"We will do everything we can to rectify this problem on our part, and to preserve the jobs of the hundreds of metallurgy workers," Lead and Zinc Complex CEO Stoyanova said.
As early as the fall of 2010 the Bulgarian Environment Ministry warned that it will shut the Lead and Zinc Complex if it registered more than two instances of pollution within one month. Back then, the factory had registered more than 24 such cases, and the Ministry said that in addition to endangering the health of 40 000 people living in the city of Kardzhali, the plant was about to bring upon Bulgaria an EU fine.
In January 2011, amidst renewed pollution, Environment Minister Nona Karadzhova gave the factory management an ultimatum to cope with the problem.
In spite of the shutting of the lead facility, which the management expects to be only temporary, the plant is continuing with its production plans for zinc and complementary products, as well as with its investment program.
In 2010, plant owner Valentin Zahariev, who is usually described as one of the richest Bulgarian "oligarchs", announced the construction of a new lead plant near the Bulgarian city of Kardzhali will be completed by the end of 2013. The Lead and Zinc Complex Jsc (LZC), received permission for modernization and expansion of its facilities in October 2009.
The expert council of the Bulgarian Environment Ministry back then supported the investment proposition by LZC.
The procedure for granting a permission for the investment under an environmental assessment started in 2006 but dragged on for several years. Zahariev had blamed the former Stanishev Cabinet for that saying the procedure suffered intentional delays by the former Environment Minister Dzhevdet Chakarov, who served from 2005 to 2009 from the ministerial quota of the ethnic Turkish party DPS.
In January 2009, Zahariev even warned that his company would file a suit against the government over the blockage of the LZC investment. He was quoted as saying the reasons for the delay were probably political.
The new plant is supposed to have a production capacity of 60 000 tons lead per year and according to Zahariev, the production will be performed under extremely environment-friendly technology.
Factory CEO Slaveya Stoyanova had announced that by the final stage of the construction, the investment would reach EUR 40 M.
Intertrust has five metallurgy and engineering plants in neighboring Serbia, and the Gorubso mines at Madan, in Bulgaria. The company exports 85% of its output, mostly to Italy, Germany, Austria and Turkey
In the summer of 2009, the lead and zinc plant was shaken by a strike of its workers who demanded timely payment of their salaries.
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