Lead pollution tests at a temporary migrant camp built on a former army firing range on the island of Lesbos showed no threat to safety, Greece’s migration minister said on Thursday (January 28), after concerns over toxic waste were raised by rights groups.
A report from Human Rights Watch last year said the site, built after the sprawling Moria migrant camp on Lesbos burnt down last year, could pose a serious health risk because of contamination from spent ammunition under the soil.
In response, officials tested 12 soil samples from the camp in November. Results released this week showed 11 samples had pollution levels within permitted European Union guidelines, while the 12th was over the limit.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said all samples from residential areas were within permitted levels. The sample that exceeded them was from an administrative area of the camp, and was under the maximum for industrial areas.
“It is very clear that there is no problem of lead within the residential area. The problem is outside the perimeter. Outside that perimeter we will do works and we will test again if needed,” he said.
The tests were carried out after Human Rights Watch criticized Greece, which has struggled to cope with tens of thousands of migrants from conflict zones in Syria, Africa and Afghanistan, for failing to conduct lead testing or soil remediation before opening the site.
Eva Cossé, a Human Rights Watch researcher, welcomed the tests but said clear risks remained in the administrative areas, where many staff worked.
“There are many people working there and these are areas where migrants and asylum seekers spend their day waiting to get services, including children,” she said, adding that more tests were needed given the risk to people permanently exposed to ambient dust particles.
“They apply standards for a residential area, residential living, without taking into account that we are talking about a camp
where people are not just living inside buildings where maybe, you know, their courtyard may be contaminated by lead, but they live 24-7 exposed to dust. It’s very dangerous specifically for children under five because you know they play in the dust, they put their hands in their mouth, they lick their toys, and they can easily absorb lead,” she said.
Mitarachi said a permanent replacement was planned for the Mavrovouni camp, which had been built swiftly to address the urgent threat to the thousands living in Moria.