Environmental pollution due to heavy metals is a serious and widespread problem in the republics of the former Soviet Union (FSU). In Armenia, relatively little has been done to accurately assess these concerns. Information exchange on ongoing policy discussions needs to be extended.
There are several investigations around heavy metal pollution in Armenia, which show the noticeable level of heavy metal pollution in soil, atmosphere and watersheds and also the influence of heavy metals on the human health, in particular children. Regulations designed to protect Armenia’s environment exist but have been largely ignored both before and after Armenian independence. The scarcity of the data hampers an accurate inventory assessment and does not provide reliable environmental data sets that are necessary for determining the environmental impact. Analyses of soils in some areas of Yerevan, for example, indicate high concentrations of lead and cadmium, which exceed permissible levels by more than 100 times.
Trace metals are known to cause a wide range of adverse health effects because metals do not break down, are excreted very slowly, and accumulate in the body. Exposure to pollutant trace metals can cause many ailments including dermatitis, cardiovascular diseases, central nervous system disorders, lung, kidney and liver damage, birth defects, and cancer. Mercury, lead and cadmium are dangerous neurotoxins, interfering with the brain and nervous system. Exposure can be particularly hazardous for pregnant women and small children. Even in low doses, trace metals may affect a child’s development, delaying walking and talking, shortening attention span and causing learning disabilities.
Unfortunately, there is low awareness among the general population on the impact of heavy metal contamination on human health. The concern of the decision-makers and the civil society groups over environmental threats is inadequate.
Overall goal: Promote national policy that can reduce environmental and health threat due to toxic metals
Objective: Promote civic engagement in the national policy targets aimed at reducing harm caused by toxic metals.
The project promotes sustainable production and consumption, and contributes to the global efforts aimed at the elimination of the products containing toxic metals by targeting relevant national policies, increasing stake-holder awareness on exposure to hazardous metals, particularly for vulnerable groups. It promotes involvement of the civil society in the decision-making process as a prerequisite for effective SAICM implementation in Armenia.
The present report summarizes the results of the two year project 2013-2015, implemented by AWHHE NGO entitled “Through Toxic-Free Products to Healthy Generation”and funded by Marisla Foundation and Global Greengrants Fund.
The project was designed to promote civic engagement in the national policy targets aimed at reducing harm caused by toxic metals by targeting relevant national policies, increasing stake-holder awareness on exposure to hazardous metals.
To reach the objectives a working group on heavy metals was created from representatives of national environmental NGOs, academy institution and CSOs. The working group conducted number of workshops, exchange meetings and a Round Table discussion in order to address the environmental and health risks related to mercury, cadmium and lead pollution, as well as of the E-waste management problem in the country.
AWHHE lobbying efforts have contributed to the advancement of the ratification process of the Protocol on Heavy Metals: Armenia has already developed the National Action Plan on ratification of and implementation of obligations within the frame of the Protocol to be submitted to all the ministries.
AWHHE participated in the international initiative lead by Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint (GAELP) contributing to the national recommendations (a resulting leaflet was developed and shared with GAELP).
AWHHE has been involved in the process for the Minamata Convention on mercury participating in the International Negotiation Committees (INC4 and INC5) and the preceding EECCA regional meetings (in Lodz/Poland, and Brno/ Chezh Republic) as well as at the Diplomatic Conference for the Minamata Convention in Japan. AWHHE became member of the National Committee on Minamata Convention in Armenia representing the civil society sector. This is the official recognition of AWHHE’s lobbying efforts and expertise towards Armenia’s ratification process. As a member of this Committee, AWHHE has a stronger position to use the outcomes of this project for protection of the rights of populations at risk. This should be done, inter alia, through improvements in national legislation for advancement of the “polluter pays” principle. The project results will be considered in the national inventory of mercury sources which is currently being implemented by the Ministry of Nature Protection.
A desk review study was conducted and stakeholder consultations were held with key agencies, Institutions and Focal Points of chemical Conventions on existing national legislation in Armenia on toxic chemicals in products including electronics, paint, batteries and toys.
As a result of the advocacy and awareness-raising activities in the frame of a multi-partner project led by AWHHE in 2013, Armenia issued Government Decree No. 278-N, 2014, Approving Technical Regulation on Safety of Toys in line with the EU Toy Safety Directive (Directive 2009/48/EC). This decree which entered into force on 1 March 2015, approves the country’s technical regulation on safety requirements for toys as well as labeling and requirements for conformity certification procedures. The technical regulation applies to all toys intended for children under 14 years of age for the purpose of play.
The Regional Workshop entitled “SAICM – a global international initiative for promoting and developing chemical safety goals” organized by AWHHE in Yerevan helped share the experiences and results of the projects implemented in Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. The Workshop was a unique opportunity for joining efforts in promoting environmental decision-making, including the issues of chemical safety in particular in frame of IPEN membership collaboration, as all invited organization from EECCA countries are active members of IPEN network coordinated by ECO Accord Russia.
AWHHE developed several letters and appeals to the Government, the Minister of the Nature Protection, to support the ratification of the Minamata Convention by Armenia, to ratify the Protocol on Heavy Metals and to approve the national Law on Chemicals. The issue was presented and widely discussed in media.
AWHHE conducted soil sampling from identified sites of Yerevan, which was analyzed by the Center for Ecological and Noosphere Studies of RA National Academy of Sciences. The results showed that some areas of the central part of the city are highly polluted. The data supplemented the mapping work carried out in 2013-2015 on heavy metals pollution in Yerevan.
AWHHE created, printed and disseminated several information materials related to mercury and lead issue, conducted a press conferences highlighting the results of the implemented project and finally shared the results and findings with the colleagues from the international networks.
The possible next steps may include activities related to implementation of suggested recommendations for the national policy improvement; development a strong national SAICM implementation strategy; implement the pilot projects on environmental and health risk assessment implementation; sharing of lessons learnt with concerned stakeholders and partners, as well as long-term activities such as scaling-up the communications campaign with dissemination of the information materials; fundraising efforts to continue scientific research on health and environmental impact of heavy metals; implement the pilot projects on environmental and health risk assessment.
Thus, the project helped bring the issue of heavy metals, particularly mercury, to the top of the national chemicals agenda in Armenia. It also helped further develop and strengthen AWHHE partnerships with IPEN by joining efforts with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Counterpart International and Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG).
Regional workshop: “SAICM – a global international treaty for promoting and developing chemical safety goals”