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25 May 2023

Just Finance International (Netherlands)

Serbia: Drmno coal mine expansion by China Machinery Engineering Corporation raises air pollution and house safety concerns

"Serbian village left to suffer as Chinese-backed coal mine expands" 25 May 2023

Serbia’s Drmno coal mine is expanding rapidly without anyone knowing what its impact will be. Houses next to the open cast mine are slowly falling apart and sliding into it. Windblown dust from the coal ash piles is a hazard to everyone in the area. [...]

Large excavators are working around the clock to fuel the power station with coal. The planned expansion of Serbia’s coal power production has increased coal demand and the best coal is found in Drmno.

For the people in the village, the expansion has become a nightmare. The excavation of coal is undermining buildings, creating visible cracks in the walls of houses, and draining groundwater. Some homes have already slid into the mine and some others are at risk of doing so. For the people in the village whose houses have not been expropriated, the future is uncertain.

Sladan and Džemail are particularly concerned about the large piles of coal ash next to the village. Strong winds carry the ash into the village, plaguing everyone who happens to be outdoors. [...]

The coal fly ash, consisting of fine particles of burned fuel from the coal plant, is stored without covers and only a short distance from the village center, they told Just Finance International. The particles contain toxic substances, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and silica. Several studies show that such dust increases the risk of cancer and other lethal diseases.

According to community members there is no warning system in the village to inform citizens when they’re at risk of the dust. The carcinogenic fly ash can be whipped up any time of the year but it occurs most frequently in the dry spring weather. Sometimes the ash can keep the village in an oppressive darkness for two or three hours. [...] Džemail lost his son three years ago to leukaemia. He is convinced it was related to the village’s polluted air. [...]

The expansion of coal production in Kostolac is facilitated by financing from China. In November 2013, China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) signed a contract with Serbia’s electricity provider, EPS, to build the new coal power plant called Kostolac B3, and to expand the Drmno coal mine. A year later the Serbian government and state-owned China Eximbank signed a US$608 million concessional loan contract for the projects.

Several concerns have been raised about the lack of transparency in the transactions. For example, no tender was done for the main contractor and no EIA was conducted for expanding the production capacity of Drmno mine from 9 to 12 million tonnes. [...]

Just Finance International has contacted China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) but to date, they have yet to provide a response. [...]