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Bulgarian metallurgical and chemicals plants, the country's major polluters, are locked into an unprecedented race against the clock to fall into line with the European Union's environmental standards, with Bulgaria due to join the EU on 1 January 2007. Businesses need to invest massively in clean technologies to comply with EU directives by the end of the year, failing which they risk being closed down following the country's accession to the EU. However, funding is problematic for modernising many antiquated plants, long privatised and surviving under the constant shadow of bankruptcy.

'The metallurgy sector has already invested 2 billionleva (1 billion) in meeting EU criteria and will spend a further 1.5 billion over the next three years on environmental protection, health and safety in the workplace, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving competitiveness,' Politimi Paunova, President of the Bulgarian metallurgy industry association, told AFP at the beginning of October. She indicated that bank loans have above all served to fund the most urgent investments in a sector which accounted for 12.6% of Bulgaria's industrial output in 2005.

Only one of Bulgaria's leading metallurgy companies, Kremikovtzi Sofia, has obtained a transition period until 2011 for applying an investment programme introducing environmentally-friendly production standards. The plants in the non-ferrous metals sector, which count among the worst air, water and soil polluters, have not been granted transition periods for adapting to EU standards. 'They have their backs to the wall and will need to invest immediately in environmental protection, at a time when funds are needed to increase productivity,' said Paunova. Output in the sector in Bulgaria is high: 250,000 tonnes of copper per year, 80,000 tonnes of lead and 100,000 tonnes of zinc, 80% of which is exported, half to EU member states.

The chemical industry, another leading polluter, is also complaining of having too little time to adapt to EU standards. The transition periods granted range from two to six years, but are too short, according to sector representatives. 'Impossibly short transition periods are a burden for our factories, for which money is the principal problem,' Yoncho Pelovski, Chairman of the Bulgarian chemicals industry association, told AFP. The sector, which accounted for 11% of Bulgaria's industrial output in 2005, has already spent more than a billion leva on environmental protection and plans to spend a further two billion to adapt to EU standards, he added.

According to official figures, Bulgaria had halved its greenhouse gas emissions in 2005 compared with levels in 1988.

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Title Annotation:chemical, metallurgical industries
Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4EXBU
Date:Oct 10, 2006

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