In April 1999, there were several devastating air raids on civilian installations of the Pančevo chemical industry. As a consequence of these attacks, the air in Pančevo and its neighbourhood was polluted to a great extent. The pollution was caused by various chemical substances, some of which have marked cancerogenic and mutagenic effects, while others can be qualified as poisonous gases.
Air strikes which brought about severe ecological consequences took place on 18 April 1999, at a time when those chemical installations had already been put out of work. Therefore, the only purpose of this destruction was to expose civilians to hazardous risk. The number of residents that are exposed to chemical pollution is great and totals several hundred thousands since the municipality of Pančevo alone has around 130,000 residents.
Many neighbouring municipalities are also exposed to these risks, including Belgrade, with a population of more than two million, 16 km away from Pančevo. In addition, winds transported atmospheric pollution over a wider area in the country. Despite the fact that it reduced the concentration of poisonous substances in proportion with the territorial spreading of pollution, it exposed a great number of residents to extremely harmful consequences. These consequences are even more drastic in view of the fact that the quantities of poisonous and harmful precipitation from the air through the heavy rain found their way to the soil exactly in the area which is considered the "breadbasket" of our country.
The first air attack on the Pančevo chemical industry took place on 12 April 1999, when "NIS oil refinery" Pančevo was hit, i. e. its "production and manipulation" unit and production unit "energy plant" which caused an explosion and fire. On the night of 15/16April 1999, NATO warplanes bombed DP "HIP Azotara", launching missiles on crude oil storage depot within the energy unit, including the primary reformer in "Amonijak 3" plant after which the factory was rendered unusable for the production of mineral fertilizers. In the same night, VCM (vinyl-chloride monomer) plant within "HIP Petrohemija" was targeted, rendering the entire factory unusable. "NIS oil refinery"Pančevo was repeatedly hit, including C-2200 vacuum distillation plant. In the wake of these strikes on chemical installations, the air in Pančevo and its neighbourhood became greatly polluted. A 24-hour average concentration of ammonia in the air exceeded the immission limits of 100 micrograms and totalled 112 micrograms per cubic metre. An increased count of chlorine derivatives in the air was also established.
The most serious environmental consequences which may be considered to be disastrous for the residents of Pančevo and a wider area were caused on the night of 17/18 April 1999, when all three factories of chemical industry were targeted again by NATO warplanes. In addition, those attacks aroused great concern among the residents of Pančevo and its neighbourhood, which made many people leave the town. Most of them sought safety in the area nearby and in Deliblato sand lands. Nevertheless, the residents could not help inhaling poisonous and harmful substances from the air, because they were carried around by often shifting winds which made it impossible to precisely anticipate to what extent would a certain area be endangered.
In the NIS oil refinery, several storage tanks of oil products and one installation were hit. The fire from the tank licked 100 metres in the air, producing a dense dark cloud that hovered over the town and surrounding areas, mostly from the direction of the
village of Kačarevo where fog made up of gases was in evidence. In the morning, in Pančevo and its neighbourhood there was "black rain". It was impossible to technically analyze the rain, but it is known that it mostly contained char which is a cancerogenic substance. The rain that started to fall on 18 April 1999 around 10.00 a.m. at the beginning negatively affected the purification of the air in Pančevo and its neighbourhood but later contributed to the rinsing of the polluted clouds which created the so-called "acid rains" and aero-sediments in the town and its neighbourhood. It is certain that due to soil pollution there will be serious environmental consequences for the crops in the territory of Pančevo and wider in the region.
In "HIP Petrohemija Pančevo" one oil storage tank containing around 100 tons of VCM (vinyl-chloride monomer) and three cisterns containing 30 tons of VCM were hit. Also hit was PVC installation (polyvinyl chloride). The burning of these substances, particularly 190 tons of VCM, brought about drastic consequences. In a period (from 5.00a.m. - 6.00 a.m.) the count of VCM in the air was 7,200 times the allowed maximum. In the period from 6.00 a.m. - 8.00 a.m. it was even 10,600 times the allowed norm. In the next hour, the concentration of VCM decreased although it was still alarmingly high - 4,600times higher than the allowed maximum. In the period from 8.40 a.m. till 9.45 a.m., the presence of vinyl-chloride monomer was even 9,000 times higher than the allowed maximum.VCM (vinyl-chloride monomer) is a substance that has cancerogenic and mutagenic properties. According to the World Health Organization such substances should not be present in the air at all, although contrary to that, the Rules on the Immission Limits of the Republican Environment Ministry (Article 7, Table 7 of the Rules) allowed maximum quantity of vinyl chloride amounting to 50 micrograms/m3.
That limit due to NATO criminal bombing of the Pancevo chemical industry, according to the above data, and on the basis of measurements by the Institute for Health Protection, Pančevo, has been exceeded several thousand times. In the NATO countries, even the minimum presence of VCM in the air is not allowed. Those who issued orders for the attack on these installations must have been aware of possible disastrous effects on the environment and public health in general. By-products of burning of chemical substances in HIP Petrohemija, hydro-chloride and carbon monoxide were released, as well as phosgene which is a poisonous gas. Their count was not measured due to technical reasons but it is quite certain that those substances were present in the air.
The air was further polluted by the fire in the "HIP Azotara", where the installations manufacturing NPK fertilizers were set ablaze. Harmful and poisonous gas ammonia was released. The aggressors were obviously fully aware of the nature of the Pančevo chemical industry and a high level of risk for civilian population, on a short-term and long-term basis, which would be brought about by the destruction of these installations since all of the installations have been constructed on the basis of Western technology and the experts from NATO countries took part in their construction or technically and technologically designed them.
From the above facts it is evident that there exist genocidal intentions of the aggressor, who, by destroying the Pančevo chemical industry concentrated on a relatively small area and surrounded by a great number of civilians, close to Belgrade with two million residents, has brutally embarked upon directly destroying not only several hundred million dollars worth of assets but upon killing and wounding civilians. The activities that can be termed environmental terrorism within a total war. Highly destructive air attacks on installations containing extremely harmful and toxic substances, attacks not motivated by the intention to stop production (largely disrupted anyway), which is of a civilian character, without any military purpose, including the fact that the aggressor was fully aware of the substances that will end up in the atmosphere, may be legitimately treated as use of poisonous gases in an indirect and perfidious way, with a high level of brutality.
Due to the aggressor's actions, there was a serious risk of hitting the "Ethylene" plant (reactor in "Ethylene") within "HIP Petrohemija" which would have resulted in disastrous explosion devastating a large part of Pančevo (in particular Topola and Vojlovica), while its residents would most probably be exposed to fatal environmental pollution. As a consequence of attacks on the Pančevo chemical industry in NATO aggression, in addition to huge material damage, loss of life and injuries sustained by many workers and residents, there is extensive environmental pollution in Pančevo and surrounding areas whose effects will most certainly be felt in the coming decades since the atmosphere is polluted with substances with cancerogenic and mutagenic properties.
In addition, the residents of Pančevo and those in the wider area, due to the destruction of installations of chemical industry and serious environmental pollution, have also been exposed to acute mental strain and suffering which is likely to last over a longer period of time. The residents will probably fear for their health which will certainly be affected by cancerous and mutagenic diseases. In view of the fact that there was an increasing count of toxic substances in the air, a certain number of people exposed to the effects of those substances will suffer from serious diseases of a cancerogenic and mutagenic nature
There is an intention of the aggressor to expose civilian population to great suffering and over a longer period of time to physical destruction, as can be seen from the fact that the chemical installations were repeatedly hit when they were already unusable. Not only were installations of civilian industry targeted and the purpose was not to stop production (it was already stopped) but obviously to kill thousands of residents of Pancevo and its neighbourhood, inflicting great harm on the health of hundreds of thousands of citizens. In view of cancerogenic and mutagenic substances, carried around by shifting winds and the fact that urban areas are involved, with big agricultural complexes, large numbers of population were exposed to them.
It is clear from the above that those issuing orders and those carrying them out who bombed the Pančevo chemical industry have committed the crimes of genocide and war crimes against civilian population, including the use of prohibited weapons.
Pančevo, 29 April 1999
Dr Milan Škulić, Facultyof Law in Belgrade
Source: The White Book