Fleeing extreme poverty, thousands of Albanians are squatting in and near the abandoned Porto Romano chemical plant — one of the most severely contaminated sites in the Balkans, with soil and groundwater pollutants at 4,000 times the levels considered acceptable by the European Union. Despite admonitions from United Nations experts, the Albanian government has failed to put up fences or warning signs around the plant, which produced pesticides and leather-tanning chemicals until its closure in 1990. It’s not clear that such signs would deter the squatters, currently numbering about 6,000, given widespread distrust of the government and the lack of options. “We know it’s bad for us here, but we have nowhere else to go. The authorities don’t do anything to help us,” said Flutorime Jani, whose family lives in a former pesticide warehouse within the plant.
Get Grist in your inbox