April 11, 2018 – Already plagued by terrible air pollution from the oil refinery across the border, residents of Slavonski Brod recently had their drinking water supplies cut off following a contamination incident which has yet to be fully explained. TCN’s Australian-Croatian correspondent in Slavonski Brod on the whole experience as a concerned young mother, as well as the official assurances that seem increasingly less than reassuring, and the MANY questions which remain unanswered.
Monday morning, 9th April, we wake to news that the water in Slavonski Brod is now safe for consumption. Instead of relief I feel unease. I tell my two children they are under no circumstances to drink tap water until I tell them regardless of what they are told by others….
Let’s go back to Friday, the 30th of March, Good Friday, a protest organised by the mothers’ group “Brodske Mame,” protesting against air pollution caused by the refinery in neighbouring Bosanski Brod. There are about 1000 people in attendance, the last few protests certainly had less attendees. Therefore, the atmosphere is a little euphoric but at the same time people look broken and exhausted. It has been over nine long years, battling this issue.
We return to our homes, get our kids tucked in bed. 10pm, news break, a burst pipe has contaminated the water with hydrocarbons in Slavonski Brod. While we’re discussing what to do, social media updates inform us petrol stations have sold out of water.
Saturday morning, nearest supermarket sold out of water, as have the next three I go to, people are panicked, frantically grabbing at peoples trolleys and arguing to secure a few litres of drinking water. The sight is unnerving. Supermarkets announce they will be receiving water after midday. Feeling hopeless, I return home to my neighbours delivering us water; faith in humanity restored. I pay it forward and take water to an elderly neighbour.
I sit for a moment and think back- burst pipe?? That happened on Wednesday, we’ve been drinking contaminated water for 3 days?!
The authorities insist there shouldn’t be any adverse effects, people on social media express concern- headaches, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, skin irritations. Authorities assure us, don’t panic, it is virus season.
Anger sets in, why were we not told on Wednesday! Was it to sabotage the protest? Contaminated water, along with the existing problems with the refinery would have assured record numbers of protesters, surely?
Residents are by the minute losing what little confidence they had in authorities and the government. I check social media, the prime minister is arriving, it seems people will be gathering demanding answers, I take my child and am there within minutes. Prime minister Plenkovic offers his sympathies, no answers, only promises, this small group of 20 or so people aren’t buying it. Mr Čorić, environmental protection and energy minister, defends any negligence.
I leave feeling angry not only at the lack of answers but lack of people in attendance. I wonder what is wrong with people and wonder why they accept injustice. If this was anywhere else in the world people would have shown up by the thousand, demanding answers. Whether this is apathy, fear or the aftermath of socialism remains a mystery to me.
Water tanks are set up to enable residents access to drinking water. The mayor and the prime minister state bottled water will also be available at these locations, bottled water is later apparently distributed to the elderly, and not available.
In the following days information surfaces, the company Crodux was testing the pipeline when the oil leakage occurred, the testing was regarding the gas that will be delivered to the oil refinery, as gasification of the plant should start this year. Crodux confirms a leakage of 150-200 litres. The contaminated water plant will never be used again.
We will be connected to the Sikirevci water wells, which should take about two weeks, full activation being completed within 3 months.
The levels of hydrocarbons are 770 times greater than what is considered safe. Pipes will need to undergone some sort of cleaning before water becomes safe.
As all cities in Slavonia, residents in Slavonski Brod feel duped, this government, as the ones before them, haven’t done anything efficient for the region, since- well ever. The town mayor and water utility Vodovod, file criminal charges against “unidentified” perpetrators, the mayor insists the spillage was a lot larger, thousands of litres, statements from on-site fire-fighters confirm this, thousands of cubic metres have been affected. Town mayor Mr Duspara accuses environmental minister, Mr Čorić of a cover-up. Meanwhile Crodux has returned to the site to again, to “clean and restore” everyone is confused as this was already done and the term oil derivatives is replaced with “liquid.”
Now no one knows just exactly what the liquid is.
Mr Čorić retaliates, it’s not a cover-up, filters on the water plant should have been replaced in 2010, it is the city’s fault this incident occurred. State secretary Mario Šilheg visits the site and announces that the area was possibly affected by climate change.
The city council has still not received water analysis results, the mayor states this fact on live TV, “there is a cover-up, we still do not have any results, we don’t know what’s going on.” Director of Crodux rebuts “of course we have the results, and those who needed to see them, have.”
I watch in utter disbelief.
The following day Minister Butković upon exiting parliament drinks a glass of water, from Slavonski Brod, offered by reporters, Health minister Kujundžić refuses, stating there is however nothing to worry about. Residents of Slavonski Brod are not amused by the theatrics or lack of information.
Residents continue drinking bottled water and bathing children in it.
In the days that follow more questions arise, no one offers any answers.
So when authorities informed us the water was safe to drink, it was followed by speculation.
What is the mystery liquid that contaminated the water pipes? Have the pipes undergone thorough cleaning? When? Or is it no longer necessary? News broke of the contamination at 10pm, which office in Croatia works at 10pm? After being told that the levels of hydrocarbons are 770 times greater than is safe, all further testing becomes a mystery, newspapers reported that the labs in Zagreb were unable to complete testing due to technical difficulties, where was the testing done? Where are the results? Why was ‘mystery liquid’ in a pipeline that has not been used for years? Does this indicate illegal smuggling? Who benefits from this new connection? How long do hydrocarbons remain in one’s system?
Does the state secretary actually understand what climate change is?
Why were fire-fighters seen at 10pm Sunday at the site, the night before they announced the water is safe? Where is this water coming from?
What does it mean when the health minister states ‘shouldn’t have’ adverse effects?
What does it mean when the prime minister says they are doing all they can, but you have a decade-long air pollution problem, still unresolved.
What does this all mean? No one quite knows at this point.
To the online mothers group turned initiative “Brodske Mame” these ecological catastrophes have united them, regardless of left wing or right wing beliefs, that often divide Croatia, the group declaring themselves apolitical, want answers and solutions to the problems facing this city, and they’ll be coming to Zagreb on Saturday to get them, accompanied by a few bus loads of residents, and the support of their city.