MAC: Mines and Communities

Armenia: "Toxic" tailings leak strikes villagers

Published by MAC on 2018-03-12
Source: Hetq, Azatutyun.am (2017-12-25)

A tailings dam filled to overflowing - periodic pipeline breaches - and wastes thrown into a community's waterway, posing a seious threat to health.

It's a familiar tale of woe (not least for Brazil, if on a vastly greater scale: see: BHP and Vale pre-warned of dam disaster ).

Now, Armenian villagers, suffering similar impacts from the neighbouring Akhtala mining company,  have been told by the country's Minister of Environment that their allegations of toxic contamination will be "investigated".

That was more than two months ago...

 

Toxic Leak From Armenian Mine ‘Investigated’

 Anush Muradian

 Azatutyun.am

 25 December 2017

A government agency is investigating a toxic waste spill from a copper mine in northern Armenia that reached a nearby community earlier this month, Environment Protection Minister Artsvik Minasian said on Monday.

The leak occurred at a tailings dump of a privately owned company operating the old mine. It sent a stream of industrial waste flowing to some parts of the nearby small town of Akhtala, including the courtyard of a local school and an adjacent park. They were not cleaned up for at least ten days.

Local residents said last week they fear that the foul-smelling substance is rich in hazardous heavy metals and therefore poses serious risks to their health.

“It is abnormal when the first reaction to such situations is not very rapid,” Minasian told a news conference, criticizing the company. “That is why we are now carrying out systemic changes [in environment protection.]”

Minasian said a new environmental inspectorate set up by the government is now “meticulously examining” the causes of the Akhtala accident. He urged the media not to blame anyone before the end of the inquiry.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on December 21, a representative of the Akhtala mining firm blamed the spill on a leaky pipe. He also denied that the waste contains heavy metals. A local environmental activist claimed the opposite, however.

Minasian said that the government is planning to enact new legislation that will set tougher environmental requirements for mining companies. In particular, he said, they will have to come up with more detailed plans for ensuring the safety of their tailings dumps that have long been a key source of mining-related concerns voiced by Armenian ecologists.


Akhtala Mining Company Releases Tailings into Debed River: Director Refutes Charge

Larisa Paremuzyan

 Hetq

22 December  2017

The periodic breakdowns in the pipelines that convey toxic wastes flowing from the Akhtala Mountain Enrichment Combinat (AMEC) to the tailings dam in the Nahatak Canyon aren’t the only risks to the environment in this part of Armenia’s northern Lori Province.

There’s the issue of the tailings dam itself – it’s filled to capacity and can no longer accept any more outflows from the AMEC.

On October 16, 2017, the company applied to Armenia’s Ministry of Nature Protection for a trial permit to store its wastes at the Shamlough open pit mine.

Shamlough former mayor Lendroush Bezhanyan told Hetq that community residents approved the measure after four public meeting were held on the matter. AMEC tailings will be transported by truck from the plant to the Shamlough mine once they reach a moisture level of 8-10%.

In the meantime, however, the AMEC has been dumping its tailings directly into the Debed River for the past two weeks. Company Director Lyova Vardanyan ordered the move since the Nahatak tailings dam is full and there’s no other place to “conveniently” get rid of them.

On December 18, along the roadway to the village of Metz Ayroum, this reporter spotted one of the AMEC tailings pipes redirected to the flood canal that parallels the railway.

Misha Amirdjanyan’s house is fifteen meters from the canal. “I’m scared that my grandchildren will fall into the tailings. When we complain, AMEC management responds that we grumble because we have no one working at the company.”

Nona Beroyan says her three-year old daughter Naneh has broken out in rashes due to the tailings.

“At the age of one, Naneh was constantly coughing after the canal overflowed,” Nona says, adding that her seven-year old son Misha has coughing fits for the same reason.

Karen Azaryan, a doctor at the Akhtala out-patient clinic, says that Naneh was diagnosed with a severe respiratory infection and is being treated.

Anoush Amirdjanyan, Misha’s wife, says they also took the child to Vanadzor for treatment and were told that heavy metals were the culprit. “They referred us to see a specialist in Yerevan. We couldn’t take the child. There are four more homes along the flood canal. Those families have kids too. I’m afraid they’ll fall in,” says Anoush.

The AMEC tailings include copper, zinc, arsenic and other heavy metals.

Pediatrician Karineh Sahakyan says that heavy metals quickly lower a child’s immunity. “The younger the child, the greater the impact. Children living near a tailings dam can suffer allergies and serious respiratory ailments.

Misha Amirdjanyan says he gets nauseous just from tailings’ stench. A year ago, he contacted former Akhtala mayor Haykaz Khachikyan to see if the flow of tailings in the flood canal could be halted. He was successful.

“For the past 10-15 days, the flow has started again. The children aren’t feeling well,” says Nona.

The company also directs tailings into the Debed River via the Vochkoulis tributary.

AMEC management also drags its heels when it comes to repairing breaks in the pipes carrying the tailings. A series of pipes running along the Public School 2 in Akhtala burst on December 13 and the following day.

Tailings filled the school’s yard. The waste also covered gardens used by the school and residents.

At the spot of the spill, school guard Hovhannes Simonyan said the pipes were repaired the next day. “It was a huge accident. It was so large that the company had to truck sand in to cover the tailings,” Simonyan says.

School Director Shoushanik Habosyan says the tailings pipes alongside the school have been a source of concern for quite some time and that they should have been removed.

Habosyan says AMEC promised to bring in a water tanker and hose down the yard. Akhtala Mayor Arkady Tamazyan told Hetq that he visited the school five days after the accident to appraise the situation.

Arguing that it took him so long to inspect the accident site because of a heavy workload (Akhtala’s administrative boundaries have recently been expanded to include several smaller settlements), Tamazyan nevertheless said that the company has promised to set things right.

“I’ve been busy with administrative matters and haven’t had the time to focus on this issue. But we’ve reached a preliminary agreement with AMEC that it must address the problem.”

Hetq tried to reach AMEC Director Lyova Vardanyan for comment on the accident and on the discharge of tailings into the Debed.

“There was no accident near P.S. 2 in Akhtala,” Vardanyan declared by telephone. He also rejected the allegation about discharging tailings into the river.

“We don’t drop any tailings into the Debed. You are writing incorrect articles about us,” Vardanyan said.

When this reporter explained that he should write a rebuttal if my articles were misleading, Vardanyan replied, “I’m not a journalist to sit down and write a rebuttal.”

With that, he hung up.

As for the Ministry of Nature Protection? It continues to turn a blind eye to the violations being carried out by the AMEC.

 

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