October 9, 2023 – On the grounds of Drava International in Osijek, the final extinguishing and rehabilitation of large amounts of burnt plastic continues after it caught on fire last Wednesday. The smoke and unpleasant smell of plastic is still spreading, and according to scientists, Osijek air quality is now much worse with dangerous toxic compounds present.
As Index writes, some schools in Osijek and surrounding villages remain closed today. At the measuring stations, the air was moderately polluted, however, carcinogenic formaldehyde was found in some smoke samples.
“Piles that we cannot reach with extinguishing agents continue to generate heat and burn inside the underground fire,” county fire chief Zoran Pakšec told HRT.
Which Compounds Pollute Osijek Air?
“The compound that is quickly volatile, which means it does not remain in the air for a long time. Their concentrations also change depending on the wind direction and strength. All such chemical compounds require a longer exposure to have a harmful effect on health, which is not the current situation,” said the director of the Public Health Institute of the Osijek-Baranja County, Nataša Turić.
“All high schools in Osijek and elementary schools in the municipalities of Ernestinovo, Antunovac, Laslovo, Čepin, Ladislavci, and Vuka are closed,” stated Miranda Glavaš-Kul, head of the Department of Education.
Furthermore, as Index (Dobro Jutro Hrvatska) reports, Branimir Hackenberger Kutuzović, a biologist from the Institute for Quantitative Ecology of the Department of Biology of J. J. Strossmayer University in Osijek, commented on the consequences.
“The fire scene today is much more dangerous in terms of exposure to harmful chemicals than it was on the first day. On the first day, when the temperatures were high, due to the wind, due to the very nature of the fire, not so many harmful compounds were formed in Osijek air”, he said.
“Today is better than yesterday, the smell is not as bad, but we cannot say that it’s fine. According to rough estimates, between 60 and 360 thousand tons of different plastic materials were burned, of which between 11 and 70 thousand tons ended up in the air in Osijek”, he added. Underground fires are still burning.
Hackenberger Kutuzović believes that the firefighters did their job the best they could. “They quickly localized the fire, prevented it from spreading, and now the investigations are over, and I appeal that the fire be completely extinguished as soon as possible and that the temperature is lowered to below 100 degrees Celsius,” he said.
“environmental Damage Can Hardly be Reduced”
Soil sampling is currently being carried out due to contamination, and there is a recommendation that fruits and vegetables should be washed several times. “It is very difficult to say in advance how contaminated the soil is. The lucky thing is that on the first day, there was a wind blowing at a speed of 25 km/h and it allowed the strip to narrow and to be directed southward. Now what happened after that, no one knows,” he noted.
“Until the analyses are finished, we cannot say exactly how contaminated the soil is. However, the compounds that may have formed are very persistent and can last on the surface for up to several years. When they reach inside the soil, they can remain for twenty years,” he continued.
He also referred to the question of how to reduce environmental damage. “It is not possible to reduce it; it has already been done. This only speaks in favor of how much work needs to be done on prevention. The Civil Protection keeps warning people to wash their fruits and vegetables, which is absolutely necessary. It is always necessary, but now especially. However, in our opinion, this emission of harmful substances lasted relatively short. This short-term exposure to formaldehyde, which is carcinogenic, should not have a significant impact on human health,” he concluded.