Ana-Marija Mileusnić, Green action: Environmental racism does not bypass Croatia either, Vrginmost is an obvious example

Author  Blanka Kufner

4. July 2024.

We recently took a critical look at the (im)possibility of developing sustainable tourism in the Sisak-Moslavina County, specifically the investment in the Topusko Spa, while ten kilometers away the soil, air and water are being mercilessly polluted.

Let's remind you that there is a plastic processing factory in the town of Vrginmost, and the community is suffocating in melted plastic and its by-products. For the past year and a half, the locals have been suffering from an unbearable stench, they feel health problems, and therefore they are demanding the immediate closure of the plant.

The state inspectorate has reacted on several occasions and found irregularities in the work, but there is still no final decision on the closure of the plant in sight. Residents say that the activities have intensified recently, that it arrives every day 5-10 trucks and how it grinds and melts over 20 hours a day.

Despite the fact that all competent institutions were timely informed by the community - municipalities, counties and even the state, they did nothing to protect the human rights of people exposed to toxic pollution. It was only when the media and certain organizations became involved in the whole case that the first reactions from the institutions took place. 

/ / / The Vrginmost case: Is it possible to develop sustainable tourism while the surrounding population is suffocating from melted plastic?

Environmental racism

Vrginmost is a small place in the municipality of Gvozd, an impoverished area of ​​special state care, full of children and young people whose school and kindergarten are 100 meters away from the plastic melting plant.

Soil, water and air pollution, in addition to destroying nature, seriously impairs the health of all who are exposed to it, especially those who live by growing their own food.

Photo: Civic Initiative

The County of Sisak-Moslavina, however, not only did not respond to numerous complaints from the locals, but issued a permit to the polluter on the basis of a study that is so inconsistent and illogical that it is offensive to all the study makers - except for those paid for by the polluters themselves , point out from Green Action, a non-governmental, non-partisan, non-profit and voluntary association of citizens for environmental protection.

The polluter and their mercenaries do not stop at directly damaging people's physical health, but also their mental health through various subtle threats and manipulation

Green Action warns that none of the above has been acted upon so far. But there was a quick reaction to the report to the labor inspection against a local non-governmental association, which contributes to the systematic oppression of an already threatened community - one of the poorest municipalities in Croatia.

"This is a community that suffered the consequences of the war, struggles with high unemployment, let's not forget the earthquake that left its mark - everything is piling up. In addition, that part of Croatia has been neglected by the state. Although he is under special care, the reality is completely different", he believes Ana-Marija Mileusnić, head of the campaign against plastic pollution in Green Action.

Such a situation is not accidental. There is a phenomenon known as 'environmental racism', which involves the violence that occurs at the hands of polluters directed at marginalized communities - those who are expected to be "unseen", that others do not care about them, that they will not organize themselves to put pressure on the polluter.

"It is precisely in such places that polluting businesses are located because it is expected that they will work undisturbed in these locations and that their activities will be tolerated for a long time. This is not only a phenomenon of Vrginmost, but it is happening all over the world. The selection of such locations is not random", warns Mileusnić. 

What about health?

On Wednesday, July 3 at 10 a.m., an action was held at the Central Station in Zagreb, where a protest was announced in Vrginmost, which is planned for Thursday, July 4. The action focused on shifting responsibilities, i.e. playing ping-pong between the competent institutions - related to the mentioned problem where the authorities are playing with people's health.

Virginity ping pong

Photo: Civic Initiative

"The environment has a great influence on our health, and in Vrginmost it is a particularly dangerous situation because it is plastic. Any unwanted waste is a problem, but plastic waste, especially that which is heated at a high temperature, carries special risks.", continues our interlocutor.

What the locals are dealing with are dispersed pieces of micro and nanoplastics that accumulate in the bodies - which has not yet been sufficiently researched and the concrete effect on health is not known. 

However, when the amount and various types of plastic are taken into account, in such cases a 'cocktail' of chemicals is created which (acting simultaneously) become endocrine disruptors. The biggest problem is the additives that are added to make the plastic harder or more flexible, depending on what is required.

"When it acts as an endocrine disruptor, it can disturb the development of the fetus in pregnant women, induce spontaneous abortions, cause infertility, and diseases from various types of cancer are also associated. We are talking about possible consequences, not necessary ones. Previous research has produced such results", states Mileusnić. Namely, where there are no such problems with plastic, there is no such possibility.

Photo: Civic Initiative

The residents of Vrginmost are exposed and their health is affected, which, she is convinced, will have health consequences. It is known from the locals that they have side effects that manifest themselves in different ways.

The green action has a future plan to map side effects, link them to individual chemicals and prove responsibility - prove institutional neglect that led to consequences for people's health.

Protest

The goal of the protest is primarily to provide support to the locals and to increase the visibility of the problem, since despite the previous protests and addressing all possible addresses of the competent institutions, the locals have not received answers or justice.

"Green action has the duty to help such communities, to draw the attention of the public and the authorities to the problem. This is exactly what we are doing with this protest", say the association. Apart from the hope of media visibility, they believe that it will be easier for the locals when they realize that they are not alone in the "fight with windmills", that behind them is the whole movement that fights against plastic, but also the individuals who support them.

Vrginmost initiative

The ultimate goal is to restore the environment to its original state so that the local population can continue with their lives as they were before the factory opened.

They invite citizens from all over Croatia to join. In case of need for support (e.g. payment of travel expenses), those interested can contact Green Action directly.

They especially invite communities that have experienced similar treatment, civic initiatives from all over the country that have fought against polluters, because they most easily recognize the problem and find themselves in it, thus providing strong support to this community.

Justice for Vrginmost, justice for all marginalized communities that are an example of institutional violence and putting the interests of polluters above the well-being of people and the environment, they say from Green Action. 

Details about the protest can be found at the link: Justice for Vrginmost in the municipality of Gvozd.

Photo: Green action
Ana-Marija Mileusnić

Photo: Civic Initiative "Stop Phaten Plastic Recycling"

Author  Blanka Kufner

4. July 2024.