The panelists included: Artak Demirchyan, Head of the Agriculture and Nature Protection Department, Lori Regional Council; Lusine Vardanyan, Head of the Health and Social Insurance Department, Lori Regional Council; Olga Belyaeva, Senior Research fellow at the Center for Ecological-Noosphere Studies of NAS RA; Tsovinar Melkom Melkumyan, Research Fellow at the Center for Health Services Research and Development of the AUA School of Public Health; Kristina Hakobyan, Research Fellow at the Center for Health Services Research and Development of the AUA School of Public Health; Inga Zarafyan, EcoLur NGO President; Oleg Durgaryan, Head of the Community Mobilization and Support Center NGO; Ishkhan Sokhakyan, Center of Young Community Activists in Akhtala; Lilit Sindoyan, Jinishian Memorial Foundation; and Liana Vardumyan, Lori Branch of Armenia’s Young Lawyers Association.
“Among big cities in the country the most polluted one is Alaverdi. There are environmental and health problems there,” said Kristina Hakobyan.
The Center for Health Services Research and Development of the School of Public Health at the American University of Armenia conducted a survey in Lori and Syunik regions rich with mines and tailings. The study reveals the concentration of arsenic and heavy metals in the soil near the industry centers is drastically higher than the international standards permit.
“Among small towns Akhtala is the most polluted one,” Hakobyan added.
Tsovinar Melkom Melkumyan said 39 children from Akhtala and 69 children from Alaverdi were examined. “Over 80 percent of children in Akhtala and 72.5% of children in Alaverdi had blood lead level exceeding the reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter,” said Melkom Melkumyan.
The representatives of Lori regional Council, however, believe the excess of the permissible level of heavy metals in these towns cannot be directly linked with the operations of mines in these regions.
“Well, there are emissions caused by open-pit mining which have an impact on the environment. Yet, a lot of metals are found in the soil simply because of the erosion of rocks,” Artak Demirchyan said.
Lusine Vardanyan said since there has never been such a survey in Armenia it is difficult to state that health problems are brought about by the operation of mines and tailings.
Olga Belyayeva partly agreed with the regional council representatives. “It is rather difficult to evaluate the possible effect. So, it's very difficult to list the diseases which may be caused by a certain amount of metals in the blood,” Belyayeva said.
Emissions from the open-pit mines spread into a chain of chemical reactions, Inga Zarafyan believes.
“It’s a major concern because the correlation of pollution is one to tenth, and it means one hectare of open mines pollutes ten hectares of soil. It is a disaster and an issue which must urgently be addressed but it will be resolved only in case of a political decision. Why? Simply the corporate social responsibility in the mining sector requires large-scale investments and modernization to go in line with the international environmental standards,” Zarafyan said.
Another evidence that mines negatively impact the environment, Oleg Durgaryan believes, is the testing results of fruit and vegetables growing in the region.
“There isn’t any mine in Ayrum village but the mines in the neighboring areas evidently affect the village. And due to that impact it was impossible to export peaches growing in Ayrum to Europe,” Durgaryan said.
The speakers agreed that for Armenia to have socially responsible mining industry it is the political will that is required, coupled with active response of locals and responsible attitude of businessmen.
Arshaluis Mghdesyan, Editor-Coordinator
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