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Formaldehyde takes Romania closer to the European Court of Justice

Independent Center for the Development of Environmental Resources
“Pollution-free Sebes!” campaign
Press Release
For immediate distribution

Brussels tells Bucharest: “Clean up your act!”
Formaldehyde takes Romania closer to the European Court of Justice

Sebes/Romania, 19 March 2010 – The European Commission has served Romania with a final warning (“Reasoned Opinion”) over its’ breach of several major pieces of EU environmental legislation in permitting the ‘Kronospan Sebes’ formaldehyde production plant (1). The infringement case (2) was opened by the European Commission’s Directorate for the Environment following a warning submitted by Romanian NGOs involved in the “Pollution Free Sebes!” campaign. If Romania fails to clear the charges brought forward then this could become first case where it is taken to the European Court of Justice over environmental impact assessments.

Kronospan Romania is the largest producer of wood based panels in South-Eastern Europe and a branch of the multi-national company Kronospan. In Romania Kronospan is operating in 3 different locations: Sebes, Brasov and Constanta. Kronospan’s activities in Sebes and Brasov gravely violate applicable legislation for environmental and construction permitting, and have already caused a significant negative impact on the health of local people and the environment due to the emission of toxic substances used for the production of the wood panels (i.e. formaldehyde and PM10 fine wood dust).

In 2007 Kronospan built on its existing industrial platform in the town of Sebes a formaldehyde production plant with a production capacity of 60.000 tones/year; this without an environmental impact assessment and prior to holding any development consent. The competent Romanian authorities (Alba County Environmental Guard) did not properly apply legal sanctions against Kronospan and thus infringed upon European Directives on environmental impact assessments (EIA Directive) and on the prevention of major accident hazards involving dangerous substances (SEVESO Directive). Worse still; following a request by Kronospan to ‘legalize’ the plant, the relevant Romanian authorities (Regional Environmental Protection Agency of Sibiu) simply issued an environmental avis for the already built but illegal construction.

In its’ communiqué dated 18 March 2010, the European Commission (EC) showed that Romania was in breach of the EIA and SEVESO Directives when it failed to apply the appropriate legal measures against the illegal plant with a production capacity of 60.000 tones of formaldehyde per year. According to the EC a first written warning (“Letter of Formal Notice”) was sent to Romania in October 2009. It received an unsatisfactory reply by the Romanian authorities requiring the EC to subsequently issue a “Reasoned Opinion” on the infringement situation.

“We wanted to involve the European Commission because we were so fed-up in having to witness the authorities’ blatant and ongoing disregard to enforce laws to protect our community and to ensure that we are properly informed and consulted prior to any decision over a development consent for such a major industrial operation. Not only did the Romanian authorities refuse to enforce the relevant legislation, but worse still; they actively teamed-up with Kronospan to cover-up the grave illegalities that had been committed,” said Matei Mircea, President of the Independent Center for Environmental Protection at Sebes.

“After monitoring the industrial plant in Sebes and the attitudes of the Romanian authorities towards Kronospan for well over 3 years, the conclusions are very worrisome for Romania as a whole: the authorities clearly lack the will to enforce environmental legislation and don’t seem to care about the public’s right to decide over the future health of their community and the environment. We will continue to pursue cases at various levels of decision-making, both European and national, to ensure that all relevant measures are applied; including against the responsible authorities,” declared Stefania Simion, Executive Director of the Independent Center for the Development of Environmental Resources.

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For more information please contact ICDER at +40 264 599 204, Mobile: +40 741588270, e-mail office@centruldemediu.ro or visit http://sebesfarapoluare.ro

NOTES:

(1) http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/10/316&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

(2) Case no 2009/4425 (http://infomg.ro/storage/Photos/ECEnv_Kronospan_ICDER_24022010.pdf)

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Brasov 1: Kronospan 0

Independent Center for the Development of Environmental Resources
“Pollution-free Sebes!” campaign
Press Release
For immediate distribution

Brasov 1: Kronospan 0

Cluj-Napoca, 12 March 2010  – The Brasov Court of Appeal (1) suspended in an irrevocable judgment (2) the environmental accord issued by the Brasov Environmental Protection Agency (EPA Brasov) for Kronospan Romania’s composite wood (PAL) industrial plant in the town of Brasov. The court action was promoted by the Independent Centre for the Development of Environmental Resources (ICDER). The suspension is valid until the final settlement of the case whose aim is to have Kronospan’s environmental accord annulled.

Kronospan Romania is the largest producer of wood based panels in South-Eastern Europe and a branch of the multi-national company Kronospan. In Romania Kronospan is operating in 3 different locations: Sebes, Brasov and Constanta. Kronospan’s activities in Sebes and Brasov gravely violate applicable legislation for environmental and construction permitting, and have already a caused significant negative impact on the health of local people and the environment, due to the emission of toxic substances used for the production of the wood panels (i.e. formaldehyde).

In February 2008 Kronospan started constructing a new PAL wood composite production plant in the town of Brasov. This move provoked negative reactions and worries from the part of the locals directly affected by the works. Well over 7000 petitions against the new plant were submitted by citizens of Brasov to the competent authorities. The construction works for the new plant was started environmental accord and in the absence of a construction authorization. Almost half way through the construction works Kronospan requested EPA Brasov to start an environmental impact assessment procedure for the plant and to issue an environmental accord. As a consequence, EPA Brasov carried out a public consultation process and issued environmental accord no 8/12 August 2009. Ever since the procedure’s onset, ICDER as well as many citizens from Brasov contested the decision; showing in detail how the procedure infringes upon European Directives 85/337/EEC on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, 2001/42/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programs on the environment as well as 96/82/EC on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances (SEVESO II).

In the court action leading to the suspension of environmental accord issued by EPA Brasov for Kronospan, ICDER proved, amongst others, that legal and factual grounds generated reasonable doubts and concerns on the legality of the administrative act itself as well as on the wood composite plant’s potential to cause severe and irreparable damage to the population and the environment’s health. These effects are related to the use in the production process of several dangerous substances such as formaldehydes. These are classified by the World Health Organization as carcinogens.

During the course of the legal challenge, EPA Brasov also issued Kronospan an environmental authorization (no 295/27 October 2009), necessary for putting the plant into usage. Based on this authorization, Kronospan has been exploiting the Brasov installation since autumn 2009.

“The validity of the environmental authorization is strictly connected to the validity of the environmental accord first issued for a project. We therefore consider that Kronospan is legally no longer entitled to exploit the installation in Brasov and we will take all legal means to ensure they will abide the court verdict”, declares Attorney Andreea Ciurea who defended ICDER’s interests in the case.

Executive Director of ICDER Stefania Simion commented: “We find it truly disturbing that one decade into the 21st century the Romanian public is still having to take responsibility for stopping companies like Kronospan polluting the environment and damaging people’s health.  Romania deserves better, and we call on the relevant authorities, whose salaries we finance as taxpayers, to start acting responsibly in cases of this kind.”

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For more information please contact ICDER at +40 264 599 204, Mobile: +40 741588270, e-mail office@centruldemediu.ro or visit http://sebesfarapoluare.ro

NOTES:

(1) File no 8194/62/2009
(2) Decision 196/R/2010

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Press Statement 10 May 2009

Pollution Free Sebes! Campaign

The Independent Centre for Environmental Protection at Sebes

Press Statement

Sebes/Romania 10 May 2009 – Several regional media channels recently published a press release entitled ‘Kronospan and the Local Initiative Group work together for a cleaner environment at Sebes’ . The press release was signed by both Kronospan and the Local Initiative Group; this with no prior consent from the later. Kronospan’s act of releasing the respective press information has been an attempt to mislead the general public and the competent authorities about its relationship with the local community and can be regarded as an attempt to harm the NGOs reputation based on an independent commitment to environmental protection. It is also an attempt to discredit all groups active in the Pollution Free Sebes campaign. In light of this serious misinformation from the part of Kronospan, the NGO is herewith releasing the following statement:

‘In 2007 the Local Initiative Group Pollution Free Sebes initiated the ‘Pollution Free Sebes! campaign’. It consists of a multitude of court actions, events, protest letters and awareness raising activities carried out together with several environmental NGOs, experts on environmental, urbanism, construction and industrial pollution issues, attorneys, etc. The campaign’s aim is to prevent Kronospan Sebes from extending its existing formaldehydes production plant and to stop the pollution generated by the Kronospan industrial platform from Sebes.

In February 2009 the Local Initiative Group ‘Pollution Free Sebes’ became an NGO now called the ‘Independent Centre for Environmental Protection at Sebes’ (ICEPS).

In March 2009 several members of ICEPS visited Kronospan’s industrial platform. The aim of this visit was to collect information on Kronospan’s intention to install certain technologies that might reduce daily pollution levels released through its chimney stacks1. Given that Kronospan is currently in an IPPC authorization and consultation procedure, it is its responsibility to release information and data to the affected public including on the measures for environmental protection and to collect views, input and comments from the public and NGOs concerned. For the same information purpose, ICEPS addressed several FOI requests to the competent authorities and will participate in the forthcoming public debate meeting; as access to information and public participation is guaranteed by the IPPC procedure and the Aarhus Convention.

We would like to stress that ICEPS has no cooperation relationship with Kronospan and did not agree to issue any joint press release with this company. ICEPS will continue to strictly monitor Kronospan’s industrial activity on its Sebes platform as well as any decisions taken by the competent authorities to approve/regulate its activities. ICEPS will continue to raise awareness amongst the general public and the authorities on the dangers and risks between Kronospan’s activities and public and environmental health. ICEPS will continue to use all civic and legal means at its disposal to prevent the planned extension of Kronospan’s existing formaldehydes production plant and to stop the pollution generated by Kronospan on its industrial platform from in Sebes.

All our press releases are accompanied by the header ‘Pollution Free Sebes campaign’ and at the end indicate contact details for our representative, Mr. Matei Mircea, for further information and contacts. ICEPS official webpage is https://pollutionfreesebes.wordpress.com/ which is where all our statements, press releases and other information materials can be found.’

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For more information please contact Mr Mircea Matei at: office@sebesfarapoluare.ro or at +40720533018.

1 It has been estimated that Kronospan’s five chimney stacks release 36,000,000 cubic metres of chemical emissions per day and 1.8 tonnes of fine wood dust, impregnated with formaldehyde and other toxic matters. The constant and elevated discharge of substances such as PM10 respirable particulate matter and formaldehyde are of particular concern, given PM10’s known contribution to premature deaths and formaldehyde having been classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organisation.

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Director of Alba EPA already replaced due to conflict of interest with Kronospan Sebes

Independent Center for the Development of Environmental Resources

Independent Center for Environmental Protection Sebes

Joint Press Release

20 March 2009

Director of Alba EPA already replaced due to conflict of interest with Kronospan Sebes

Sebes/Alba County/Romania, 20 March 2009 – The Alba County Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now managed by an interim Executive Director nominated by the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA). This change is a result of the Alba Court of Appeal’s recent ruling (1) which confirmed that the Alba EPA’s director Mr Vasile Todea’s had a conflict of interest with Kronospan Sebes, a company that is part of the multinational Kronospan Group. The ruling establishes an important legal precedent. According to the Alba Iulia Court of Appeal: “In his role as EPA-Alba’s executive director, Mr Vasile Todea was called to take decisions on SC Kronospan SA, a notorious company with notorious environmental problems but which also had commercial, profit-making ties with SC Luxor LTD, a company owned Mr Vasile Todea and administered by his wife. This situation created an evident conflict of interest.”

Kronospan Romania is the largest producer of wood based panels in South-Eastern Europe and a branch of the multi-national company Kronospan. In Romania SC Kronospan is operating in 3 different locations: Sebes, Brasov and Constanta. SC Kronospan’s activities in Sebes and Brasov gravely violate applicable legislation on environmental and construction permits, and have caused significant negative impacts on the health of local people and the environment, due to the emission of toxic substances used for the production of the wood panels (in particular formaldehyde).

In order to carry out its industrial activities in the town of Sebes, Kronospan has been involved in several environmental licensing procedures with EPA-Alba when it was under the direction of Mr Vasile Todea. In his role as a public servant Mr Todea was bound by the provisions of Law 161/2003 on anti-corruption measures. However, whilst he was the executive director of the EPA-Alba, Mr Vasile Todea was at the same time the sole owner of S.C. Luxor Ltd. SRL, a company which builds and maintains green spaces. SC Luxor Ltd. SRL had a service contract with Kronospan for maintaining particular green spaces in the town of Sebes.

By taking Decision No.585 of 18.07.2008 the NEPA dismissed Mr Vasile Todea from his role as director of EPA-Alba, reasoning that he had a conflict of interest with Kronospan. Mr Vasile Todea appealed the decision at the Alba Court of Appeal. His appeal was rejected in the above mentioned ruling (1).

The ruling will almost certainly be appealed at Romania’s Supreme Court but for the time being an interim director of the Alba EPA has replaced Mr Vasile Todea until the case has been finally settled.

The Independent Centre for Environmental Protection at Sebes (ICEP Sebes) intervened in the case to support the NEPA. ICEP Sebes will continue to do support the legality of the NEPA’s decision to dismiss Mr Vasile Todea, including at the Supreme Court level.

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For More information please contact us via office@sebesfarapoluare.ro or at +40 (0) 720533018 or visit www.sebesfarapoluare.ro si www.centruldemediu.ro

Endnote:

(1) Ruling 64/F/CA/2009 of File 1352.1/57/2008 publicly released on 3 March 2009

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Alba EPA executive director’s dismissal confirmed by court verdict

Press Release

For immediate distribution

Alba EPA executive director’s dismissal confirmed by court verdict

Sebeş/ Romania 8 March 2009

The Alba Court of Appeal has rejected via a final verdict a complaint submitted by Mr Vasile Todea, the director of the Alba Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The plaintiff had contested a sanction imposed upon him by the National Agency for Environmental Protection (ANPM). The sanction was imposed due to Mr Todea’s conflict of interest in resolving requests and procedures initiated by SC Kronospan. The court’s decision maintains as legal the initial decision taken by the ANPM to dismiss Mr Vasile Todea who via his company SC LUXOR Ltd. SRL had commercial, profit-making contracts with SC Kronospan, a company which on the other hand has been requesting environmental permits from the Alba EPA. ‘The Independent Center for Environmental Protection’ (ICEPS), an NGO based at Sebes had intervened in the case to support ANPM. The NGO’s members were the authors of the initial complaint that shed to light Mr Todea’s conflict of interest.

Kronospan România is the largest producer of wood based panels in South-Eastern Europe and a branch of the multi-national company Kronospan. In Romania SC Kronospan is operating in 3 different locations: Sebes, Brasov and Constanta. SC Kronospan’s activities in Sebes and Brasov gravely violate applicable legislation for environmental and construction permitting, and have caused significant negative impacts on the health of local people and the environment, due to the emission of toxic substances used for the production of the wood panels (i.e. formaldehyde).

For its industrial activity in the town of Sebes Kronospan is currently carrying out several environmental authorisation procedures that involve the Alba EPA and whose director, Mr Vasile Todea, a public servant, is bound by upholding Law 161/2003 for measures to prevent and combat acts of corruption. Mr Vasile Todea who is the EPA’s executive director also is the sole owner of S.C.Luxor Ltd. SRL who amongst others builds and maintains green spaces. A services’ contract between SC Luxor Ltd. SRL and Kronospan for maintaining particular green spaces in the town of Sebes exists as far back as 2005.

According to Art.79, lit a) and c) of Law 161/2003, a public servant is in a conflict of interest if he is in a situation of resolving requests or has to take decisions or participate in the decision making of juridical entities with whom he at the same time has a patrimonial relationship or if his patrimonial interests or those of his wife or first grade relatives could influence the decision which he needs to take within his public function.

In May 2008 several members of ICEPS submitted a denunciation to the ANPM regarding Mr Todea’s conflict of interest in light of his commercial relationship with SC Kronospan. They requested an inquiry and Mr Todea’s subsequent dismissal. As a result of the request the ANPM’s disciplinary commission ordered Mr Todea’s dismissal as executive director of the Alba EPA. The ANPM’s order was subsequently appealed by Mr Todea. ICEPS intervened to support ANPM (1). As a result of the deliberations, the court rejected Mr Todea’s appeal and accepted the NGO’s intervention request.

The role of a person who occupies the function of Mr Vasile Todea is defined by the legality and correctness of decision making to protect the rights and interests of the citizens to health and a healthy environment. He must also ensure a high standard of environmental protection. Such role can not be assured by a person who is in a commercial relationship with one of Romania’s most notorious polluters”, declared Mr Mircea Matei, president of ICEPS.

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For more information, please contact us at office@sebesfarapoluare.ro or at +40720533018.

ENDNOTES: (1) File nr. 1352.1/57/2008 at the Alba Court of Apeal.

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The ‚Kronospan’ case – A new court victory secured by civil society

Independent Center for the Development of Environmental Resources

E-mail: office@centruldemediu.ro | WEB: http://www.centruldemediu.ro

Press Release

For immediate distribution

Cluj Napoca
14 February 2009

The Brasov court of justice yesterday rejected via a definitive judgement a complaint submitted by Kronospan Romania against the fines applied by the Brasov environmental guard. With yesterday’s verdict the Brasov court of justice acknowledged the legality of the measures taken by the Brasov environmental guard against Kronospan for building a composite wood (PAL) industrial plant in the town of Brasov without a valid environmental accord. The Independent Centre for the Development of Environmental Resources (ICDER) was an intervener in the interest of the environmental authority.

Kronospan Romania is the largest producer of wood based panels in South-Eastern Europe and a branch of the multi-national company Kronospan. In Romania Kronospan is operating in 3 different locations: Sebes, Brasov and Constanta. Kronospan’s activities in Sebes and Brasov gravely violate applicable legislation for environmental and construction permitting, and have caused significant negative impacts on the health of local people and the environment, due to the emission of toxic substances used for the production of the wood panels (i.e. formaldehyde).

In the past Kronospan has been repeatedly fined by the competent authorities. However, the company prefers to pay the all-too-often symbolic fines to avoid legal consequences while continuing to endanger human health and pollute the environment.

In February 2008 Kronospan started constructing a new PAL wood composite production plant in the town of Brasov. This move provoked negative reactions and worries from the part of the locals directly affected by the works. Well over 600 petitions against the new plant were submitted by citizens of Brasov to the competent authorities (1).
In May 2008 ICDER officially warned the Brasov environmental guard that SC Kronospan Brasov was carrying out construction works based on an invalid environmental accord. ICDER requested that the company should be fined and be ordered to halt all relevant works. As a result the environmental guard sanctioned Kronospan with a fine and ordered for the works to be stopped.

Kronospan subsequently took the environmental guard to court; attacking the inspection report at the base of the fine. In October 2008, ICDER intervened in this court action to the defence of the environmental authorities (2). The court debates focused on the validity of the environmental accord which the company had obtained in 2002 and which expired in 2007; before the inception of the construction works. ICDER also argued that the environmental accord had been obtained at a time when Romania’s environmental legislation was much more permissive and not yet harmonized with EU Directives. In January 2008 the Brasov Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided that in order to obtain a new environmental accord Kronospan would need to launch a new and much stricter environmental impact assessment procedure to meet all relevant EU directives. It is within this context that Kronospan by completely ignoring relevant legal provisions and decisions started the construction works in February 2008.
„Yesterday’s court decision shows the big polluters that it is important to enforce environmental legislation. At the same time it is also encourages more and wide access to justice for environmental problems from the part of the environmental NGOs,” declared attorney Dr. Andreea Ciurea, who represented ICDER.

Endnotes:

(1)http://www.financiarul.com/articol_9888/firma-kronospan-reclamata-de-brasoveni-la-parlamentul-european.html
(2) Civil File nr.9798/197/2008 at the Brasov court of justice

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On-line Launch of the ‚Pollution-Free Sebes’ campaign

Press Release

For Immediate Distribution

Sebes/Romania, 4 December 2008 – The Independent Centre for the Development of Environmental Resources (ICDER) and the Indpendent Centre for Environmental Protection (ICEP) today launch the ‚Pollution-Free Sebes’online campaign. Its’ aim is to stop the pollution and gave health problems caused by Kronospan Sebes and implicitly to also put a halt to the company’s violations of relevant environmental law.

Kronospan is the largest producer of wood composite products in South-Eastern Europe and Kronospan Sebes is part of the Kronospan’s multinational infrastructure. In Romania the company currently operates in the towns of Sebes, Brasov and Constanta. In order to produce its wood composite products, it uses formaldehyde which is a substance that has been classified as causing cancer by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Sebes has the highest cancer rates in Romania. In the towns of Sebes and Brasov Kronospan’s activities gavely violate the law on environmental authorisation and the law on construction permits. The company’s activities have already created and significant impact on the affected population’s health and the environment.

Because of the company’s refusal to apply the law and because of the authorities’ flawed application of environmental laws, Kronopsan finds itself in a situation whereby it prefers to pay the rather symbolic fines to avoid legal consequences. Sadly this also means that it continues to pollute the enviorment and to put at risk human health.

This campaign is based on the combined efforts of ICDER and ICEP who after 2 years today are launching an on-line version of the campaign at http://www.sebesfarapoluare.ro as well as a blog in English language at http://www.pollutionfreesebes.wordpress.com.

To accompany the on-line launch both NGOs are also releasing today a common report entitled „The Kronospan Case – All at One glance.” It details the current situation of Kronospan’s operations in Romania and of the ‚Pollution-Free Sebes’ campaign. The web-sites explains the litigation cases promoted by both NGOs, the violations committed by Kronospan and details in a documented manner the enviornmental and human health risks associated with formaldehyde. In the ‚images’ section the visitor can access high resolution images taken by the ICDER team at the occasion of a recent field trip.

„We hope that when visiting the website people will feel a strong determination to get involved in contributing to resolve these problems which need great attention due to their seriousness but also in light of the authorities’ attitude towards enforcing environmental legisation,” says Stefania Simion, ICDER’s director and legal consultant.

„Kronospan is a company which gravely endangers our health – both human and enviromental and this in the name of something as low as profit”, adds Mircea Matei, president of ICEP Sebes.

Within the frame of this campaign ICDER offers support to ICEP as well as to other directly affected citizens and interested parties that wish to learn about their procedural rights in the relevant authorisation procedures. The campaign and its website also contain actions to raise public and media awarness on the Kronospan case study by presenting a complete evaluation of the company’s impact on the environment and public health; by documenting the legal problems confronted by the company and their offical transmission to legal and administrative authorites; both in Romania and at the EU level.

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For any supplimentary information please contact: Stefania Simion at stefania.simion@centruldemediu.ro or Mircea Matei at matei.mircea@sebesfarapoluare.ro

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