Around 100 former employees of “Sharr Salloniti” company have allegedly died as a result of working in environments with the presence of asbestos, and numerous other former employees have been suffering health consequences due to the same cause.
An environmental study, funded by the European Agency for Reconstruction, was released in 2001 that showed the presence of asbestos dust in its factory. Following these conclusions, the company was closed down by the UN Mission in Kosovo, and since 2011 has been under the liquidation process.
In 2011, former employees of the company filed complaints to the Privatization Agency of Kosovo, seeking compensation for the health damage they suffered during the time when they were exposed, unprotected, to asbestos during their work.
Bujar Gjikolli, a radiologist at the Oncologic Clinic in Prishtina, says that asbestos poses a high risk since in the long term it causes incurable illnesses, breathing difficulties, and also causes lung cancer.
“Asbestos comes in particles which are inhaled through the air, and they end up in narrowest parts of our breathing tube, where they stop and enter the lung parenchyma, and in time cause an allergic reaction which consequently also causes fibrosis,” he says.
In 2017, 252 cases of lung parenchyma cancer, which often is related to the harmful impact of asbestos, were recorded in this clinic.
Materials that contain asbestos are water supply and wastewater pipes, roof covering plates, and other materials for interiors, such as the covers of furnaces, etc.
As a result, construction workers are most at risk of working with this material.
Untreated waste containing asbestos are found throughout our country. however, the risk that may come from this material was discovered very late.
In a short survey conducted by the “Eco-Girls” team, a number of workers acknowledged having worked on occasion with this kind of material, and that of what asbestos was and of its risks as well.
They had already been informed that this material causes cancer and that it is not used anymore. Furthermore, these workers showed us an asbestos depository not far from the heart of the town.
Speaking for KosovaLive, radiologist Gjikolli said that exposure to asbestos has long-term negative health consequences.
“… protection in the workplaces, protection from materials that contain asbestos, by using masks or other kind of protection, is the only way to keep the workers safe from illness. Changing the workplace often, ventilation, and masks are the only way,” Gjikolli says.
The Kosovo ombudsman, Hilmi Jashari, said to KosovaLive that there is no single action or strategy by which the government plans to remove asbestos from everyday use. Thus, as concerned as he was, research was launched regarding the pollution of the environment with materials and waste materials containing asbestos.
“So, this simply forced us to launch an official research project in order to inform, first of all, citizens of the risks posed by this material, and on the other hand, give suggestions to the Government and public institutions for obligations they have based on the results of the surveys,” he explains.
He says the use of this material to the extent it is in Kosovo seriously damages the health and the wellbeing of its citizens. He also says that one should not forget that what’s at stake here, is the right to live, and that it’s the obligation of the government to take measures to protect its citizens.
“No farther than here in the center, on the other side of the street, an entire space is filled with this kind of material which, as said, is health damaging,” Jashari says.
In the absence of an awareness campaign related to the harmful consequences of asbestos, the lack of knowledge of the citizens on this issue is noticeable.
In a casual survey done by KosovaLive, 64.2% of the respondents could not identify materials containing asbestos, whereas only 35.8% were able to identify them.
Almost all of the respondents (92.3%) said that they had seen roofs covered with asbestos material. Most of them suppose that better information would help them in better identifying this material.
It is interesting that 64.2% of the respondents are aware that this material can cause cancer and are aware of its negative health impact. Meanwhile, 17% of the respondents said that they know people who have worked with this material.
Arbnore Azemi, the spokeswoman of “Pastrimi” (Cleaning) company, says that they did not encounter asbestos waste during their work experience, and she adds that the responsibility with waste landfills lies with Kosovo Landfill Management Company (KLMC).
Within a larger World Bank project, this company was requested to also deal with asbestos waste. However, Albiana Avdija, the information official of KLMC, says that this company has not accepted waste containing asbestos until now, for accepting the waste is not allowed by law. She failed to provide further explanation.
Even though these companies say they have not encountered any asbestos landfills, such landfills can be found in the heart of Prishtina. There are asbestos materials stacked but also thrown all around, right in the vicinity of the train station in Prishtina. Despite our efforts, we could not find those responsible for the landfill.
This also perhaps illustrates our approach as a society towards pollution in general, and in particular regarding this dangerous material, which is banned in many world countries.