Fridge dumping ground finally to be cleared

The tiny central Bohemian village of Kacov can hardly lay claim to fame exactly, but it has received a fair bit of attention in the past six years. Not so long ago NATO officials allegedly zeroed in on a bizarre looking unidentified object near Kacov on their satellite maps of central Europe and asked the Czech defence ministry for an explanation. As it turned out, the bizarre looking object had nothing to do with the Czech Republic's military arsenal - it was the biggest collection of used refrigerators in the world - over 1,800 of them.

The used fridge dump is a nightmare - not just for the inhabitants of Kacov - but for the Czech Environment Ministry which was supposed to supervise the process of scrapping the junk heap and eliminating the toxic waste in line with the country's programme to eliminate harmful CFC gases. So why is the heap of rusty fridges still out there? The director of the State Environment Fund Radka Bucilova explains:

"We did work on eliminating the dump. The firm Ekotron was commissioned to collected used fridges from around the country and eliminate the toxic waste. Unfortunately the firm went bankrupt and 45 million crowns of state funds went down the drain. Looking back it was a megalomaniac project that was bound to fail. The whole programme was given a thorough overhaul and now this elimination process takes place on a regional basis. We have a reliable incinerator for CFCs and the fridge dump near Kacov should disappear by the end of 2002."

This week the governor of Central Bohemia and the State Environment Fund signed a contract on the grounds of which the Fund will pay the firm Rethman - Jerala Recycling 7 million crowns to scrap the junk metal, eliminate over 3 tons of CFC and re-cultivate the dump side. This time the money is to be paid "on delivery" and the project must be completed by the end of 2002.

Just a few months before the general elections the inhabitants of Kacov have finally been given the news they've waited six years to hear. All's well that ends well. BUT, how much damage has already been done? How significantly has the Kacov dump contributed to the thinning of the ozone layer? Experts say that while damage to the local environment is minor, mainly caused by oil leaks, CFCs released into the atmosphere have helped to damage the Earth's ozone layer. The dumped fridges were exposed to sun, wind and rain for six years and many parts are missing.

Who, if anyone, will be held responsible for this? And, who is going to take responsibility for the 45 million crowns of wasted state funds? The authorities have few answers. Radka Bucilova of the State Environment Fund again:

"We found ourselves in the position of a creditor who invested 45 million crowns into a project which went down the drain and even though we took the matter to court there is no chance of getting that money back. That's history and thank God we managed to get over it and are now ready to resolve the Kacov problem efficiently."