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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.
Many complain that their jobs are insecure and have come at huge cost to the local environment. In documents submitted to the Bosnian Federal Ministry in , seen by the Guardian, the steel giant promised to undertake a series of expensive measures to reduce emissions. This work was to be completed by the end of More than five years after that deadline, many of these improvements have not been finished or, in some cases, even started.