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Business Growth Threatens Europe's Environment

Two international agencies are warning that significant improvements made to Europe's environment during the past few years could be lost if economic growth continues to be based on traditional, environmentally damaging activities.

The U.N. Economic Commission for Europe and the European Environment Agency said much of the continent's environmental improvement is due to measures to limit pollution or as a result of economic restructuring.

A report by the European Environment Agency finds greenhouse gas emissions, ozone depleting substances and heavy metal discharges to water have been reduced in recent years, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asian states.

Agency head Gordon McInnes said while this is good news, these gains could be lost if economic growth does not become more eco-efficient. He said increases in traffic, energy consumption, and soil erosion threaten Europe's environment.

Mr. McInnes also said there are growing amounts of waste and hazardous material disposal. "The volumes of annual disposal of municipal waste have now reached 415 kilograms per person on average across the whole European area. On hazardous chemicals, we see that the European Union is now the main chemical producer, producing 32 percent of the world total. And we can see that unsafe disposal is still an issue in many countries across the area," he said.

European environment ministers are to consider some of these concerns later this month at a meeting in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. The last such review of Europe's environment was five years ago.

The head of the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, Kaj Barlund, said his organization will offer three measures for adoption by Europe's environment ministers during the Kiev conference. He said the first deals with pollutants.

"The companies that are producing polluting substances will have to inform the public about what kind of substances they produce, and then give the public the possibility to be informed and perhaps express their opinions about the potential damage that the company can cause the environment. So this is part of giving the public more information about environmental problems or potential environmental problems," he said.

Mr. Barlund said another measure will require governments to take environment and public health concerns into account when agriculture and transportation plans are made. He said the last measure seeks compensation for victims of industrial accidents that result in polluting international rivers or lakes.