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July 9, 2004


Waste Worry: Toxic chemical dump in landslide area raises concerns


A 20-year old toxic waste dumping ground 30 kilometers south of Yerevan has aroused concern among environmental activists who say residents of the area are in danger of exposure to DDT and other harmful chemicals.

In 1982, 500 tons of waste and banned toxic chemicals were buried in the upper part of Artashat Region’s Bardzrashen village. Today the place is part of Erebuni Community.

500 tons of toxic waste in a region of landslide.

It is believed the waste was dumped there after the Soviet Government outlawed the use of pesticides containing the harmful chemicals. The burial site was dug and a concrete foundation was laid. The “cement cemetery” was divided into sections for storing the waste, according to how the product was packaged (i.e., boxes, bottles, cans, etc.)

 Late last year and as recently as April, samples were taken from seven sources in the area. Upon examination by sanitation and epidemiology experts, four of the samples were found to contain harmful chemicals, and the level of toxins in the soil was higher the second test than the first.

Attention is being drawn to the dump site by members of Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment, a Non Governmental Organization which first learned of the site four years ago.

Members of the organization say that the site poses a threat because it is in an area susceptible to landslides.

The women have written letters to various government ministries, requesting that the site be cleaned.

“They built this burial right in the landslide zone and it means the soil is soft there and it drifts,” says Ruben Yadoyan, head of the National Academy of Sciences’ geo-ecology laboratory of the Institute of Regional Geography. “The danger is that the landslide process is active right there.”

The specialist says there are cracks in the earth’s surface in the area, proof that the land is shifting.

“These types of toxic chemicals do not dissolve in water. It means their movement is connected with mechanical motion, which is more dangerous,” says Yadoyan. “When precipitations occur, waters flows through that crevice and take toxic chemicals with them.”

No specific research has been conducted yet to determine if the nearby population has suffered any effects from exposure or consumption. The women’s group says it hopes to receive grant funding to conduct such research.

The nearest settlement to the dump, about 2.5 kilometers away, is the village of Geghadir, but some summer homes are only 800 meters from the site.

“In 1982 they were obliged to know that this territory was a landslide zone and it was a crime to construct such burial in that zone,” says head of sub-department of technological disasters of the Department of Emergency Situations Ludwig Nazaryan. “Ground waters spring from that territory and they give rise to Jrvezh River.”

The NGO renewed concerns about the toxic dump as part of its “Future Without Toxics” initiative, made possible by a grant from World Study Program. Over a period of seven months, it examined the site and took samples of soil at the beginning of the program and at the end.

“We took samples from the depth of two meters from different places of the burial and from the places located up to 70 meters away from burial,” says hygienist Lilit Simonyan a member of the women’s group. “Fo r the second time, we carried out research up to 50 meters. The number of toxics increased.”

According to Simonyan, no toxic chemicals have been found in the soil around residences, but could reach homes through water. The tests found levels of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), as well as hexachlorophene (an anti-bacterial chemical). Specialists say the chemicals can remain vital in soil for 40 years.

Ingestion of chemicals such as DDT, have been known to damage human immune and neurological systems, and are especially hazardous to reproductive organs.

Yadoyan says evidence from the NGO research indicates that preventative measures should be taken to avoid health risks.

“First of all it is necessary to undertake anti-landslide measures,” he says. It is necessary to restore flashboards that used to stand there once and restore ditches for drawing aside surface waters. The crevice can drive waters during rains, and there is a danger of ecological disaster.”

The Department of Emergency Situations specialist is not alarmed.

“It is a fact that such a burial exists,” says Nazaryan. “It is also a fact that there are 500 tons of toxic chemicals and that the place is located in a landslide zone. However, there is no problem for the present moment. It is a matter for the future. It can happen or it cannot.”

He says the DES has not had experience with waste removal and is not sure what measures should be taken. There are no records on file of the burial, thus, no starting point on how to go about a cleanup.

On April 24 the Government of Armenia adopted a decision on protective measures for toxic wastes sites. It approved 8.5 million drams (about $16,000) to be spent on efforts to make the area safe and plans to hold a tenure for bids from companies that could clean the site.

Yadoyan says today there are 3,500 landslide zones in the republic and 300 of them are actively researched.

&ldquoThere are landslides which are more dangerous, but here there is a question of toxic chemicals and the danger has doubled,” he says. “Usually it is cheaper to prevent it than to mitigate any effect of it. We are more used to the second one.”


According to Agnes
 

 


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