Based on and spurred by the story published in investigative media BIRN (Reporter.al) “Refinery, not perfumerie,” regarding the speaking up of inhabitants around the former Metallurgical plant against pollution, on February 20, 2018, the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) verified on site the degree of air pollution due to the heavy oil smell and the pollution of waters in irrigation canals, as a result of the emergence of hydrocarbon waste. The AHC observers’ group, consisting of two lawyers, pursued an inclusive and professional methodology to verify the case, meeting and exchanging with representatives of competent local and central institutions at the local level, such as: Regional Environmental Directory (Elbasan), State Inspectorate for the Environment, Forests and Waters, Elbasan Dirstrict Regional Directory, and the Regional Health Directory, Elbasan; Vidhas and Balldren Health Center, which respected the right to information by providing adequate access to written documentation that they possessed.
AHC observers, considering it particularly important for an objective verification of claims, observed the factual situation on site and talked with inhabitants of the area, some of which displayed health consequences from environmental pollution that continued for years, according to their statements.
Based on data obtained from the verification, among others, AHC reached the following preliminary conclusions:
- Information provided by the General Practitioner of the Vidhas, Balldren Health Center confirmed the concerns raised by inhabitants of the area that were contacted, that asthma allergy diseases, dermatological diseases and spread of cancerogenous and tumoral diseases, stimulated by pollution caused by oil and bitumen refineries, particularly when very close to the inhabited area.
- Inaction by competent bodies, which the relevant laws and bylaws assign responsibilities and functions to monitor, inspect and undertake temporary or permanent measures in order to stop polluting activity by operators active in the area, respect the environmental principle that “polluter pays” and ensure criminal or civilian accountability of perpetrators, is unjustified and disproportionate to the needs of the created environmental situation.
- Failure to exercise legal competences, particularly by the State Inspectorate on the Environment, Forests and Waters, to inspect compliance with environmental permission and conditions of private operators managing hydrocarbon processing refineries in the area, may not be based on instructions by supervisors related to restructuring of subordinate bodies, in the circumstances when they run counter to legislation in force and may violate the exercise of competencies and the proper functioning of institutions that are important in protecting the environment and the health of citizens.
AHC considers important the fast and efficient action of state bodies to protect the environment from continued pollution and as a result harm to the health and calm family and private life of citizens in the Papër administrative unit, Elbasan. Pursuant to its mission, AHC will pursue legal ways to address and find a solution for the situation, through administrative and/or judicial paths, in order to reinstate the rights of inhabitants of the villages Vidhas and Balldren, Papër administrative unit, Elbasan and interrupt the further practice of environmental pollution as a result of hydrocarbon processing by private operators and the inability of state bodies to react to the situation.
This case will be pursued in the context of the project “Improving the human rights situation in Albania, through strengthening the rule of law” (Legal Clinic XII), with financial support from Civil Rights Defenders.