Toxic Threats: Environmentalists sound alarm over open arsenic dump in Alaverdi

Environmentalists in the Lori province worry that an arsenic dump near the town of Alaverdi (160 kilometers north of Yerevan) would cause a national ecological disaster, should the area suffer a significant earthquake.

The dump, which is primarily used to dispose of waste accrued from production of the former Alaverdi Mining and Metallurgical Plant built in 1980, is in the seismic vulnerability zone. It is also in a dangerous proximity to the River Madan feeding the River Debed, which irrigates 10 nearby communities, and is the deepest river in Armenia.

Small levels of arsenic have already been found in soil samples in the area, and the Madan water is a light brownish color, which some attribute to chemical pollution.

The commission of the National Service for Seismic Protection (NSSP) of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Armenia has discovered that the dump (150 meters long by 130 wide) consists of three floors. One of them is completely open, and the other two are in a third-degree accident-prone state (graded on a scale of five; a level four building, for example, is considered too dangerous for habitation).

Gurgen Amalyan, representative of the agency, says that dump was not properly constructed.

The present owner “Manes Non-Ferrous Metals Plant,’’ has not made improvements.

Residents of the nearby village often pasture their animals on the territory, oblivious or uncaring to the possibility of quicksilver or arsenic showing up in dairy products.

“We have no figures at our disposal, but these pesticides may cause serious functional disorders of central nervous system and kidney,” deputy head of Alaverdi Medical Center Serob Nazaretyan told ArmeniaNow.
Residents of Alaverdi agree with environmentalists.

“It is very difficult here even without that problem. I have diseases connected with my veins, eyes, because of the plant’s gas exhaustion. So I have to attend hospitals in Yerevan all the time. This structure must be renovated by all means, otherwise when it is damaged, we’ll suffer from even more diseases than we already are,” says Alaverdi resident, 53-year-old Seda Kirakosyan.

It is hard to say when the dump will be renovated. Andranik Ghambaryan, Director of Manes Non-Ferrous Metals Plant, admits that the dump is in poor condition, but he says that they hardly manage to borrow money from the Alaverdi Armenian Copper Program for paying their five employees’ wages. (Manes is on the edge of bankruptcy. The director, himself, does not know why their organization is still operating. Environmentalists believe that the organization is created to cover up the shortcomings of ACP.)

“Hence, we can renovate the dump neither in the nearest nor in the distant future,” Ghambaryan says.
He states that accusations that the organization is founded to simply conceal the shortcomings of ACP in Alaverdi are groundless.

“It’s a pity that a tradition is formed in Armenia, when the wealth coming out of the crust of the earth, belongs to (mining) organizations, but when the issues of draining tailing dumps and closing pesticide dumps are raised, they belong to no one,” environmentalist Karine Danielyan says.

Another huge hill of wastes is located not far from the arsenic dump, at the Madan River; no one claims ownership for it.

Armen Saghatelyan, Director of the Center for Ecological-Noosphere Studies at the RA National Academy of Sciences, insists that in case of heavy precipitation the hill may result in a landslide, releasing dumped pesticides into the environment.

Alaverdi Municipality is aware of those problems. Mayor Arthur Nalbandyan promises to turn to ACP (which has already assigned $1,000 for a monitoring) as well as all the interested international institutions to settle the issue.