SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s government has secretly allowed three ageing coal-fired power plants to burn unclassified waste, flouting local and European Union laws, according to a complaint filed with the European Commission by lawyers from London-based charity ClientEarth.
Illegal imports of waste from abroad and the burning of refuse-derived fuels at coal-fired plants have rekindled public health concerns in the Balkan country, already struggling with serious air pollution.
The environmental group’s lawyers, together with two Bulgarian green activist groups, accused the government in skipping formal permit procedures and keeping Bulgarians in the dark about the health and environmental risks from waste burning in the old plants.
“Burning waste without the correct filters is a major hazard for those living around the plants,” ClientEarth lawyer Dominique Doyle said in a statement.
According to ClientEarth, the Bobov Dol plant in western Bulgaria and Brikel in the south were given permission through confidential letters to burn 500,000 tonnes of waste over six months — 10,000 times more waste than is allowed without an appropriate permit update — starting late 2018.
A third plant - Republika Pernik - was verbally given permission to burn waste for six-months, they said.
Bulgaria’s environment ministry said it could not confirm or deny the existence of such confidential letters when contacted by Reuters. The ministry declined to comment on the other details of the lawyers’ complaint.
“The ministry’s actions are illegal,” Meglena Antonova, campaigner for Greenpeace Bulgaria, told Reuters. “Permissions to burn so much waste can only be allowed after public discussions and consultations.”
She said the environmental ministry has denied access to the content of the letters despite repeated requests under Bulgaria’s access-to-information laws.
Bobov Dol plant subsequently received a permit to burn refuse-derived fuels in April 2019, but Greenpeace Bulgaria is contesting in the Bulgarian courts its issuance without a study on the impact on the environment.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which classifies air pollution in general, Bulgaria is among the European countries with highest concentrations of so-called PM 2.5, a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that can include dust, dirt, soot and smoke.
The Black Sea state is also among the European countries with highest concentrations of carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.
Last month Bulgarian prosecutors ordered the ministry to carry out checks at four coal plants, including Bobob Dol, Brikel and Republika Pernik, regarding the storage and incineration of hazardous waste without the relevant permits.
Authorities have tightened controls on waste imports and boosted monitoring of waste depots following reports of illegal shipments from Italy.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Toby Chopra