Saving Lives in Kosovo

Research reduces mortality from lead poisoning

Due to the work carried by Dr Paul Brewer and Professor Mark Macklin from the Geography and Earth Sciences Department in 2009, hundreds of lives have been saved from lead poisoning among the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities in Kosovo.

During the 1999 Yugoslav conflict, these communities were relocated by the UN to refugee camps on former industrial land in northern Kosovo and southern Serbia. The move was only meant to be temporary, but a decade later those evacuated were still there and suffering with their lives as a result.

Hundreds of adults and children are thought to have died during this time of lead poisoning and the abnormally high mortality rates prompted closure of the camps and research to be carried out on certain areas.

Lead is toxic to many organs and tissues in the body including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys and reproductive and nervous system. In children, it can cause potentially permanent learning and behavior disorders.

Dr Brewer and Professor Macklin were asked to establish if Roma Mahalla, a suburb of Mitrovica, Kosovo, was an environmentally safe location to build a new housing development for the relocation of the refugees and to test the soil for lead.

On their recommendation, two camps were closed in Mitrovica and the refugees were relocated to a new development in Roma Mahalla. Following this move, there have been a significant reduction in blood lead levels in the children and no reported deaths attributed to lead poisoning.

"However, moving to the lead safe area of Roma Mahalla was the most important factor in reducing their blood lead level. Children resettled for 18 months or more had a median drop in blood lead levels of 36 percent"

Mercy Corps, RAE Liaison and Humanitarian Assistance


Research Aims

  • Create a positive impact on life quality and human health of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities
  • Gain high-level political interest and support for the recommendations to be implemented
  • Inform and generate impact among policy-makers and officials
  • Raise awareness and understanding of lead poisoning and its consequences nationally, internationally and globally


Useful Links

Paul Brewer - Staff Profile

Human Rights Watch

European Union Office in Kosovo

UK and Kosovo



Professor Paul Brewer
Geography and Earth Sciences 
Aberystwyth University | +44 (0)1970 62 2586