Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Jeans Shops Dye Novi Pazar Water Deadly Shade of Blue

The mass of small jeans workshops emptying their waste into Sandzak’s rivers poses considerable danger to people’s health.
By Amela Bajrovic

Mirza and Samir, two seven-year-olds, run happily along the banks of the river Raska in Novi Pazar, holding rubber rings under their arms.


This river flows past the end of the street where they live and provides much-loved refreshment for many of the town’s children in the summer months.


But what Mirza and Samir have not noticed, or simply do not worry about, is the unusual colour of the water they swim in.


Once an ordinary pale green or brown, recently it has acquired an odd and very artificial shade of blue.


The adult passersby are more in the know. Strolling along the banks, some stop to warn the children about the perils of bathing in water contaminated with factory effluents.


But the children simply ignore them and carry on with their diving and swimming.


The dye comes from the town’s principal industry, which is making jeans.


In the 1990s Novi Pazar became the textile capital of Serbia and Montenegro, and in recent months, many new small companies have set themselves up.


The workshops offer a livelihood to huge numbers of people in Novi Pazar but at the same time pollute the rivers Raska and Josanica, which flow through the town and into the river Ibar.


Some 45 of the town’s 48 workshops release their waste straight into the river, after grinding their jeans on stone to give them the bleached, “stone-washed” appearance that buyers want.


Local ecologists have been complaining about the river pollution for years.


The head of one such group, named “Raski Sliv”, Ibrahim Mehmedovic, told BCR that only three jeans workshops in the town had installed waste water filters.


He said the problem was far more serious than a new shade of blue in the local river.


“The release of waste materials from the grinding process, which uses oil, is leading to dangerous levels of chromium in the river,” said Memedovic.


Omer Numanovic, an old fisherman from the town, agreed that the damage was widespread.


“Nowadays, all I catch in the river Raska is old sport shoes and this was once a clean river,” he said.


“When I was a boy, the river was so clean that one could drink from it.”


Ismeta Mehovic, whose house stands next to the Raska River, is also complaining about the deterioration.


“When the waste water is released at night, the smell is so bad you can’t even open the window,” she said.


“We have complained to the inspectors many times so far. But when they show up in the morning, the river has already been cleared up.”


She shrugs her shoulders when asked why she allows her own children to bathe in such a polluted river.


Her neighbours, she says, do the same, “What can I do when their friends are bathing in the river as well?”


Zoran Vostinic, head of the Ecological Inspection Department for Kraljevo district, says health and safety inspectors are well informed about the problem of the river and are trying to solve it.


“Some owners of jeans workshops actually possess filters but don’t employ staff qualified to operate them,” he said. “We cannot stand next to them all the time and control them.”


Vostinic said they had started to impose fines since last December, when a new Law on Environmental Protection was passed, ranging from 150,000 to 3 million Yugoslav dinars (17,00 to 35,000 euro).


He added that the new law obliged owners of textile companies to submit a study of their environmental protection measures before they could obtain a business license.


Fuad Ugljanin, owner of the Bruk textile company, said he was ready to honour the new regulations.


He had halted his jeans workshop last winter, he added, because he did not yet have the appropriate refining equipment.


“I don’t want to run my business against the law but obviously some of my colleagues don’t care,” he said.


“It’s not of my interest to earn money by polluting the environment.”


Owners of workshops that still pollute the river were understandably less keen to speak about the problem in public.


“Why be concerned about ecology when many people don’t even have bread to eat,” one asked. “Let the factories work, even if they do release waste materials.”


Some of their workers, who are also parents of the children bathing in the river, seemed less happy with this solution but said they had to obey their bosses’ orders.


“We know we pollute the Raska River but what can we do?” one of them confided.


“I feed my four-member family by this job. I’m only interested in getting my wages paid on time.”


Amela Bajrovic and Alma Rizvanovic are journalists working for Radio Sto Plus, an independent radio station based in Novi Pazar.


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