Toxic heavy metals were found near people’s houses in Northern Armenia

Press release from December 10, 2018

Toxic heavy metals were found near people’s houses in Northern Armenia.
The local industry is to blame, Czech scientists say

ALAVERDI/YEREVAN – The vicinity of mining and metallurgical enterprises in Lori Province, Armenia, is likely to be contaminated with dangerous chemicals, mainly copper, exceeding legal standards and hygienic norms. Local hotspots having direct impact on environmental pollution are located either in close proximity to, or directly within the urban areas. The samples from Debed River contained the highest levels of toxic metals, potentially affecting the people farming alongside the riverbank, experts from the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague alert. Local and foreign organizations call for rigorous action of governmental bodies.

Copper smelter in Alaverdi, mine and tailing pond in Teghut and several tailing ponds around the town of Akhtala – those are the largest industrial sites of the Lori region and according to latest research, also the cause of copper, zinc, molybdenum, lead and arsenic presence in the neighbouring environment.

The copper levels found in sediments extracted from the river of Debed show rapid increase in samples extracted just below the industrial sites exceeding the background levels even hundred times. (1)

“The sudden elevation of those values proves the forthright influence of the local mining or metallurgical activities on the environmental pollution by heavy metals,” explains Ing. Marek Šír, PhD., co-author of the research funded by the Transition Promotion Program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.

“However, even less contaminated water may cause health problems to anyone who gets exposed for longer period of time, for example by showering or through farming. Copper in such cases affects negatively mainly liver and kidneys,” an expert from the University of Chemistry and TechnologyWest Bohemia in Pilsen, the lead author of the research

Toxic eggs and playgrounds

The impact on human health was analysed also through sampling human hair of local inhabitants, free-range chicken eggs or children’s sandpits. Half of the examined playgrounds showed considerable heavy metal pollution while children are noticeably highly sensitive and vulnerable to such chemicals. Disturbing concentration of copper was also found in few samples of hair from the people living in the area famous for the UNESCO-listed monasteries.

Speaking about the eggs, Jitka Straková, an expert on toxic chemicals from the Czech NGO Arnika, notes: “In Alaverdi, the detected levels of dioxins exceed both European and Armenian standards, in some cases even over five times.” As the egg samples suggest, the industrial pollution affects also the food-chain and causes considerable danger from dioxin-like compounds. “Just by eating average amount of eggs typical for Armenian population, people already break the tolerable daily dose of dioxins as it was set by European Food Safety Authority,” Straková adds.

The research results were highly anticipated by the locals, Armenian environmentalists say. “We finally have hard scientific data to prove that people’s health is being harmed by the industry due to insufficient protection by the legislation and local authorities,” summarizes Dr. Elena Manvelyan, the Head of Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment NGO. “The responsible authorities have to take immediate and appropriate steps to stop this poisoning,” Manvelyan appeals.

However, the solution might be hard to draw since operations in both Alaverdi and Teghut were recently shut down for business, Ecolur’s president Inga Zarafyan points out. The Russian VTB Bank launched ‘Property vs Debt’ process in September-October in two companies of Vallex Group – ‘Teghout’ CJSC and ‘Armenian Copper Program’ CJSC, owner of Alaverdi Copper Smelter.

The research was carried out by the laboratories of the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague as part of a project of environmental organizations Arnika from the Czech Republic and Yerevan based Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment with support from Ecolur informational portal and the Transition Promotion Program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.

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  • The copper level found in sediments extracted from the river of Debed under the Alaverdi factory are thirty-one-times higher (2,200 mg/kg) than the ones detected above the town. The slowly decreasing figures further down the stream are then being interrupted by the confluenting creeks running from the mining areas – the Shnogh River polluted by the waste of Teghut mine exploitation and the Akhtala River polluted by the waste of Akhtala ore dressing combine, in which the highest measured levels were found – over 7,000 mg/kg – exceeding the pre-Alaverdi numbers even hundred times. The river of Debed flows through the whole region from South-West and over the borders to Georgia. Alongside the 152 kilometres in Armenia, it is being used by local farmers for gardens and orchards.