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Bulgaria: Environment
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Natural Features > Environment


Like the other European members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistancewas overthrown in late 1989. The Zhivkov government's commitment to heavy industry and lack of money to spend on protective measures forced it to conceal major environmental hazards, especially when relations with other countries were at stake. Factories that did not meet environmental standards paid symbolic fines and had no incentive to institute real environmental protection measures. Even as late as 1990, socialist officials downplayed the effects on Bulgaria of radiation from the 1986 nuclear power plant accident at Chernobyl'. Citizens were informed that they need not take iodine tablets or use any other protective measures.

In 1991 Bulgarian environmentalists estimated that 60 percent of the country's agricultural land was damaged by excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers and by industrial fallout. In 1991 twothirds of Bulgarian rivers were polluted, and the Yantra River was classified as the dirtiest river in Europe. By that time, about two-thirds of the primary forests had been cut. However, despite its recognition of the need for greater environmental protection, Bulgaria budgeted only 10.4 billion leva (for value of the lev -- see Glossary) to remedy ecological problems in 1991.

Perhaps the most serious environmental problem in Bulgaria was in the Danube port city of Ruse. From 1981 to 1989, the chemical pollution that spread from a chlorine and sodium plant across the Danube in Giurgiu, Romania, was a forbidden subject in Bulgaria because it posed a threat to good relations between two Warsaw Pact. During the Giurgiu plant's first year of operation, chlorine levels in Ruse almost doubled, reaching two times the permissible maximum in the summer of 1990. Over 3,000 families left the city in the 1980s despite government restrictions aimed at covering up the problem. Besides chlorine and its byproducts, the plant produced chemical agents for the rubber industry, and in 1991 some sources reported that the plant was processing industrial waste from Western countries -- both activities likely to further damage Ruse's environment. International experts claimed that half of Ruse's pollutants came from Giurgiu, and the others came from Bulgarian industries. In response to the formidable Bulgarian environmental movement, some Bulgarian plants have been closed or have added protective measures; the Giurgiu plant, however, was planning to expand in 1991.

Pollution of agricultural land from a copper plant near the town of Srednogorie provoked harsh public criticism. The plant emitted toxic clouds containing copper, lead, and arsenic. In 1988 it released toxic wastewater into nearby rivers used to irrigate land in the Plovdiv-Pazardzhik Plain, which includes some of Bulgaria's best agricultural land. The groundwater beneath the plain also was poisoned. Work has begun on a plan to drain toxic wastewater from the plant's reservoir into the Maritsa River. Environmental improvements for the copper plant and three other factories in the Plovdiv area (a lead and zinc factory, a chemical factory, and a uranium factory) also were planned, but they would take years to implement.

None of Bulgaria's large cities escaped serious environmental pollution. Statistics showed that 70 to 80 percent of Sofia's air pollution is caused by emissions from cars, trucks, and buses. Temperature inversions over the city aggravated the problem. Two other major polluters, the Kremikovtsi Metallurgy Works and the Bukhovo uranium mine (both in southwestern Bulgaria), contaminated the region with lead, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, ethanol, and mercury. The city of Kurdzhali became heavily polluted with lead from its lead and zinc complex. In 1973 the petroleum and chemical plant near the Black Sea port of Burgas released large amounts of chlorine in an incident similar to the one in Srednogorie. Environmentalists estimated that the area within a thirty-kilometer radius of the plant was rendered uninhabitable by that release. The air in Burgas was also heavily polluted with carbon and sulfur dioxide in 1990.

In 1990 environmental scientists claimed that two-thirds of Bulgaria's population suffered from the polluted environment to some degree. In 1991 Bulgaria began seeking international assistance in solving environmental problems. Besides joining Romania, Turkey, and the Soviet Union in joint scientific studies of the critically polluted Black Sea, Bulgaria actively sought environmental technology and expertise from Western Europe and the United States.

Data as of June 1992

Last Updated: June 1992

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Bulgaria was first published in 1992. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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