Rusting promises and a judicial marathon

According to the data of the Hydrometeorological Institute of the Federation of BiH, Zenica in 2019 had the most polluted air in the Federation of B&H, and high concentrations of sulfur dioxide and dust were particularly pronounced. The metallurgical factory is the dominant source of SO2 and dust emissions in Zenica. The struggle of the activists of the association Eco Forum to improve the air quality in Zenica has been going on for twelve years.


The story of the struggle of activists against industrial pollution in Zenica

The ironworks under the name Eisen und Stahlgewerkschaft Zenica was founded in 1892 by the iron merchant from Prague Leon Bondy, the Austrian steel producers Moritz and Adolf Schmidt and the industrialist Hans Pengg von Anheim. After World War II, the Yugoslav government designated central Bosnia as a center of ferrous metallurgy. By 1992 the ironworks had over 22,000 employees and produced 1.7 million tons of steel a year.

The first measurements of air quality in B&H were performed in 1954 in Zenica. After realizing that the air was excessively polluted, the local government introduced an environmental tax in 1963, as an obligation of the ironworks until they install the filtering equipment. The funds raised in this way were used to pay for additional street washing, reforestation and cultivating picnic areas where the people of Zenica could take refuge from air pollution. After only three years, all measures to reduce air pollution have been suspended. In the 1980s that British Steel and US Steel conducted studies to reduce emissions from the ironworks. The investments planned by these studies were interrupted by the war, and in 1992, integrated metallurgical production was completely stopped.

Phoenix project to restart production and environmental investments

After the war, B&H did not have the capacity to renew metallurgical production and a solution was sought in the form of a foreign investor. Half of the production part of the steel plant was taken over by the Kuwait Investment Agency (KIA) in 1999 as compensation for Yugoslavia's oil debts. The Kuwaiti agency invested in the construction of an electric arc furnace in which scrap iron was melted, and in 2004 the global steel production leader, a corporation now operating under the name ArcelorMittal, bought 92% of the ownership of the ironworks from KIA and the Federal Government. Integral steel production was launched in 2008 in the sintering plant, coke oven, blast furnace, power plant, converter steel mill and rolling mill. The privatization agreement between the Federal Government and the corporation has never been disclosed, as it bears the mark of confidentiality. It was learned, however, that the corporation's liabilities were investments of 165 million US dollars over 10 years. Out of the planned 4000, less than 2500 employees continued to work at the ironworks. The annual production reached about 700 thousand tons of steel, and the production program is limited to rebar and steel slabs, while the plants for processing and finalizing products such as the smithy were shut down. With the launch of integrated production, air quality in Zenica began to decline. With a third of pre-war production, 80% of SO2 and dust concentrations from the 1980s were reached.

The Federal Environmental Protection Law, adopted in 2003, introduced a system of environmental permits. Existing plants had 5 years to adjust their emissions to the new regulations. Environmental permits for the Zenica ironworks were issued with a 2-3 year delay, with the excuse of lack of professional capacity. Remarks from public hearings were ignored, and fines for violations and excessive emissions into water and air were symbolically small (a total of only 2,250 EUR of fines were imposed for the whole of 2013).

The voice of civil society against the corporation and government institutions

In December 2008, a group of local intellectuals and activists founded the association "Eco Forum Zenica". Not knowing that there is an Aarhus Convention, or that BiH has ratified it, the association has implemented all three pillars of the convention in practice. The first activity was participation in public hearings for issuing environmental permits. The main shortcomings of permits were highlighted: no baseline study was made and there were no deadlines for projects or appropriate sanctions, but these remarks were ignored by the competent ministry.

Eco Forum continued its activities by sending letters, collecting, expertly interpreting and distributing the information gathered, organizing protest rallies, meetings, media campaigns and gathering evidence for judiciary actions. Such action have yielded modest results. At that time, there was no automatic measuring equipment for monitoring air quality, so episodes of increased pollution could not be declared and adequate measures could not be taken. In December 2012, at the invitation of the Eco Forum, thousands of people on the streets of Zenica sought justice and investments in environmental protection.

Only after these protests, significant reactions of the authorities followed. Five years of soil and vegetation testing have shown that the soil is contaminated with heavy metals and that agricultural products are not usable for food. The city has set up three automatic measuring stations to monitor air quality, previously unavailable information has begun to arrive, and in December 2013, an alert episode was declared for the first time. After the implementation of intervention measures, the concentrations of SO2 in the air dropped from 1400 to 400 micrograms per cubic meter in just a few hours. This showed that it was possible to improve the situation by implementing appropriate measures, but the government then started to avoid declaring the episodes and implementing those measures in every possible way.

Due to lack of maintenance and calibration, the measuring equipment soon ceased to operate. Both local and federal authorities have forced the excuse "if the pressure on polluters continues, we will scare away the foreign investor and 2500 people will lose their jobs". The Eco Forum has expended tremendous energy proving the opposite, citing as an example the plants of the same owner around the world, which still work and employ people and do not have such high emissions of harmful substances into the environment. The protests had another effect - the interest of the media and foreign organizations in the Zenica problem appeared.

When the Federal Ministry realized that the largest projects planned by environmental permits were late or would not be realized, they decided to ease their criteria and in 2014 the government signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" with the corporation. After 5 years, the environmental permits expired without the emissions being reduced to the legally prescribed limits. The biggest projects were not realized, and the Memorandum only stated that they were too expensive. For example, for the coke oven desulphurization project, it was stated that "the installation of that plant would require about 30 million euros and that the project should be canceled". An additional excuse for inaction was the lack of an emission register, which is why it was not possible to determine how much each plant contributes to the total air pollution in Zenica.

Criminal charges

Pollution of water, air and soil, improper waste disposal, excessive noise, are considered violations for which fines are provided, the amounts of which should depend on the damage to the environment, and in reality depend on the free assessment of the competent inspector. Federal inspectors are in charge of large plants such as the ironworks. The misdemeanor penalties they imposed were symbolic and did not correspond to the degree of damage done to the environment. The same inspection imposed much higher penalties for hiring unregistered workers or not having the obligatory documentation. This showed that large polluters in B&H are privileged because they pay taxes, contributions, customs duties, they are important for the economy, while environmental protection is put in the background.

Articles 303 to 322 of the Federal Criminal Code describe crimes against the environment, agriculture and natural resources. Article 303 provides for imprisonment from 3 months to 5 years for those who "by violating the regulations pollute the air, soil, running, standing or groundwater, watercourse, sea, seabed or seabed or otherwise endanger the cleanliness, air quality, soil , water, watercourses or the sea, the seabed or the subsoil, or the natural genetic harmony of biological diversity in the wider area and to the extent that it may worsen the living conditions of humans or animals or endanger the survival of forests, plants or other vegetation ". If this criminal offense causes property damage on a larger scale, a prison sentence of up to 10 years is envisaged, and if it leads to the death of one or more persons, the prison sentence may be up to 12 years.

In September 2015, the association Eco Forum Zenica filed criminal charges against ArcelorMittal Zenica and responsible persons acting as company directors for the criminal offense of "Environmental Pollution" under Article 303 of the Criminal Code and articles of the Federal Environmental Protection Law. Charges were also filed against the Federal Minister of Environment and Tourism and the Director of the Federal Administration for Inspection Affairs, for the criminal offense of "Unconscientious Work in the Service" under Article 387 of the Federal Criminal Code and in connection with articles of the Federal Environmental Law and Federal Inspection Law.

After the filing of criminal charges, the attitude of the institutions towards the work of Eco Forum changed. The ministry's attempt to renew the environmental permit for the steel plant without public debate - by making the Eco Forum's comments and suggestions on the text of the new permit only "an integral part of the file" was followed by an administrative dispute against such a permit. After that, the company submitted a new request, that instead of ten permits for individual plants, one joint permit be issued. Representatives of the Eco Forum were also appointed to the expert team for the evaluation of this request, and they identified numerous irregularities, such as that the emission measurement systems were not set up in accordance with regulations and that the previous emission measurement results are practically unusable. In April 2017, new environmental permits were issued, which for the first time contained deadlines for individual projects and the obligation to regularly monitor and report on project implementation.

Prosecution decisions - no one is to blame

The Cantonal Prosecutor's Office of the Sarajevo Canton made a decision not to conduct an investigation on January 4, 2019, which was confirmed by the Chief Prosecutor of the Cantonal Prosecutor's Office on March 29, 2019, with the explanation that the applicants "made efforts to improve the situation and find the best solution, having in mind that it is a complex problem, so it cannot be concluded that it is a deliberate act".

On February 13, 2018, the Cantonal Prosecutor's Office of Zenica-Doboj Canton (ZDC) issued an order not to conduct an investigation against the company ArcelorMittal Zenica and responsible persons, because allegedly there are no grounds for liability of a legal person in terms of criminal law and "there was no intent to commit a criminal offense." In other words, the prosecution failed to prove how much the total air pollution was contributed by emissions from the company, and how much by other sources (traffic, domestic fireplaces) because these data (pollutant register) did not exist at the time. The absence of intent means that excessive emissions occurred by accident, that they failed to prove that investments in environmental protection were deliberately delayed. The prosecution's statement that "the company is of great importance to Zenica - jobs, city heating plants" was, to say the least, frivolous, and was another in a series of excuses against the rule of law in B&H.

After the complaint was filed, April 9, 2018. The Chief Cantonal Prosecutor determined that the previous decision not to conduct the investigation was correct and legal. After that, a complaint was sent to the Federal Prosecutor's Office against the decision of the Chief Cantonal Prosecutor of ZDC. The Federal Prosecutor's Office accepted the complaint of the Eco Forum on March 6, 2019. and ordered the Cantonal Prosecutor's Office of ZDC to re-investigate the reported criminal offenses against the responsible persons from the company ArcelorMittal Zenica.

After the repeated investigation, the Cantonal Prosecutor's Office of ZDC issued on November 20, 2020. order to suspend the investigation against the former director and company ArcelorMittal Zenica, because "there is not enough evidence that the suspects committed these crimes." The court expert in the field of environmental protection determined that "the most significant measures from the Memorandum of Understanding signed by ArcelorMittal and the Government of FBiH on January 16, 2014, did not have to be implemented before September 30, 2019." There is no evidence that the defendants "were aware of the illegality of their actions" because they were in constant communication with the competent authorities until the renewal of the environmental permit on April 3, 2017. Thus, the "Memorandum of Understanding" has become a legal act that is above the law, and which can justify any action of "unconscious" polluters. The prosecution's explanation also states that the consequences of uncontrolled emissions through the roof of the steel plant were caused "within the framework of legal regulations" because the Federal Ministry constantly extended the deadlines from environmental permits. There are no objective data on the degree of pollution, and there is no evidence that the diseases of the population are in a direct cause-and-effect relationship exclusively with the actions of the suspects. The prosecution also referred to the principle of ne bis in idem, ie "impossibility of conducting misdemeanor and criminal proceedings at the same time". In 5 years, a total of 116,600 EUR of fines were collected for air, soil and water pollution, and for non-fulfillment of obligations from environmental permits, which means that the day of health of Zenica is worth only 64 EUR.

An appeal was filed against such a decision of the Prosecutor's Office, but the Chief Prosecutor of the Cantonal Prosecutor's Office rejected as unfounded on January 8, 2021. The Chief Federal Prosecutor also rejected the request of the Eco Forum for the transfer of local jurisdiction from the cantonal to the federal prosecutor's office. Thus, 1939 days after the filing of criminal charges, judicial institutions refused to conduct an investigation into who and how much polluted the air in Zenica.

Not enough and too late, but there are still results

However, air quality in Zenica slowly began to improve; of 252 days with daily concentrations of SO2 above the limit of 125 mg/m3 during 2014, the number of such days was reduced to 117 during 2019, but it is still far from the legally prescribed limit - a maximum of 3 days per year.

Finally, the cantonal pollution register was made, which contains data only for 2016, and which determined that PM10 emissions in the City of Zenica predominantly come from industrial and energy plants, with a share of 62% of total emissions from all sources in Zenica.

ArcelorMittal also started more serious investments in filter plants after filing criminal charges. At the beginning of 2017, the first hybrid filter was put into operation at the sintering plant, and at the end of 2019, the second hybrid filter was put into operation, and only then were dust emissions from that plant significantly reduced.

The second investment, in the converter steel mill, was delayed by a full ten years; instead of the end of 2011, it was completed only at the end of 2020. Unfortunately, it was not so successful and still does not give the desired results, so the emissions from this plant are still uncontrolled and excessive, and it is not yet known whether in 2021 it will achieve the expected efficiency of flue gas capture and purification.

The third significant investment is the construction of a new heating plant, which began in 2019, and which would replace coal-fired boilers from the existing power plant with boilers that will use coke oven gas and blast furnace gas as fuel. The new heating plant is jointly financed by the city of Zenica, which uses part of the energy for heating the city during the winter, and the company ArcelorMittal, which will use thermal energy for technological needs. It is planned that the investment, for which the EBRD loan was provided, will be completed in the middle of 2021, after which SO2 emissions and dust from this plant should be significantly reduced.

The only plant for which no immediate solution is in sight is the coke oven plant, which has significant fugitive emissions of dust, SO2 but also organic pollutants such as benzene. With the construction of the new heating plant, the coke oven will be more important as a source of coke oven gas than as a coke oven plant (blast furnace fuel), which only increases the need to invest in this plant, although the corporation persistently avoids and delays it.

The Eco Forum continues its struggle and pressure on government institutions, ministries, inspections, as well as international financial institutions, all with the aim of accelerating investment in the remaining plants that pollute the air, water and soil in Zenica. The European Industrial Emissions Directive 2010/75/EU made emissions of SO2, dust and organic pollutants from industrial plants in the EU just a memory from the past. The EU is now working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to perform decarbonisation.

Steel plants in Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to have excessive pollutant emissions, both measured and fugitive, that the EU has brought to minimum limits a long time ago. The corporation, with its headquertes in the EU, on the one hand lobbies for the introduction of quotas for steel imports into the EU, and at the same time these quotas are used as an excuse to delay investments in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bosnia and Herzegovina must not be a safehaven for dirty industry that does not meet the criteria of the EU Industrial Emissions Directive. Polluted air and water know no borders, pollutants from B&H will reach the EU. European banks and investment funds should not finance projects in B&H that are not environmentally friendly. B&H institutions do not have the capacity to measure the concentrations of hazardous, carcinogenic pollutants emitted by industrial plants, to determine how much industrial plants contribute to total air pollution, and what the consequences are for the health of the population from excessive emissions. The most capable personnel from B&H have already emigrated to the EU, fleeing ethnic divisions and corruption, and Bosnia and Herzegovina lacks experts to tackle these problems. The EU continues to support policies in B&H that have led to a brain drain and there are no effective tools to combat corruption in B&H. Both the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the EU Green Agenda are based on decarbonisation and conservation of natural resources, but also on inclusion. No person and no place should be left behind and forgotten, and the citizens of B&H just feel abandoned and forgotten.



By 1992, the ironworks had over 22,000 employees and produced 1.7 million tons of steel a year.


The area of the ironworks is almost equal to the area of the urban area of the city of Zenica.


Thousands of Zenica residents responded to the protests organized by the Eco Forum in December 2012.


The Eco Forum sought to build a dialogue between all stakeholders - polluters, local, cantonal and federal institutions, experts and civil society.


Uncontrolled red dust emissions from the sintering plant before the installation of hybrid filters.


Since 2008, flue gases have been emitted every hour through the roof of the converter steel mill.


Mean annual sulfur dioxide concentrations for 2019.