Mining and Environmental Issues in Armenia: Construction of a New Tailing Pond of Akhtala Mining Plant
The locals in Mets Ayrum, Lori Region, speak against the construction of a new tailing pond for Akhtala Mining Plant near the village because all the lands and pastures will be polluted by heavy metals, green activists say.

The new tailing pond is planned to embrace the territory between Tchotchkan and Mets Ayrum villages, Lori Region. It will be an extension of Nahatak tailing pond of Akhtala Mining Plant and, thus, steeply increase environmental problems in the region, specialists claim.

Oleg Dulgaryan, village council member of Mets Ayrum and head of the Community Mobilization and Support Center, said the Interagency Commission on Temporary Schemes for Land Management of the Armenian Government approved the construction of a new tailing pond.

“The Ministry of Territorial Administration and Emergency Situations, hence, proposed to the community council of Mets Ayrum to change the agricultural status of lands to industrial. Until it was announced at the meeting of the village council that the construction of a new tailing pond over 40 hectares between Tchotchkan and Ayrum is already approved, the population did not know about the building and public discussions were not held. The first discussion with locals was held only on February 12 after my insisting on a public meeting at the village council session. People are annoyed as there is an operating tailing pond and now a new one is to be built,” Dulgaryan said.

He added Nahatak tailing pond, which is now operating near Mets Ayrum, has always caused annoyance to locals who suffer health problems and sometimes cattle losses due to negligence. Akhtala Mining Plant representatives, however, stated earlier that the old tailing pond, which is located closer to Mets Ayrum, is planned to be closed.

Levon Galstyan, geography specialist, member of Pan-Armenian Environmental Front, pointed out the security and environmental protection violation cases which took place when building the Nahatak tailing pond.

“The system of water management is out of order. The tailings flow into the Nahatak pond and, ultimately, into the Debet River. Actually, people living down the river use that water for irrigation and grow agricultural produce on that soil and children are playing there,” Galstyan said, adding the Armenian authorities have not studied and outlined possible security and environmental issues – heavy rains, storms, technological accidents - which may rise when constructing tailing ponds.

Hakob Sanasaryan, head of the Greens Union, said the Nahatak tailing pond contained two and a half million tons of waste in 2002. “The 12 villages, Mets Ayrum including, are located too close to the pond, some 2.5 to 8 km only. If industrial waste is disposed on the soil, it should be taxed, but at present mining is exempt from taxes. Armenia has turned into an ocean of mines,” Sanasaryan said.

Sanasaryan singled out the heavy metals tailing ponds may contain, namely copper, zinc, lead - bismuth, gallium, etc. The toxic metals and chemicals- saturated tailings can cause various health problems to locals, he believes.

“Depression, insomnia, memory and hearing impairment, pulmonary edema, pneumonia, function disorders of nervous system, liver, kidneys, and ferments. It may also cause respiratory diseases, skin diseases, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, as well as insomnia,” Sanasaryan emphasized.

The annual fee of 40 thousand drams Akhtala Plant pays to the community council of Mets Ayrum, green activists believe, is too small to cover all the environmental damages. “The lands are for cultivation and grazing. Though the local authorities claim these lands are not good, Tchotchkan and Ayrum have a lack of pastures. If the tailing pond is built, it is still unsettled what compensation the community will get to cover the health and environmental problems,” Dulgaryan said. “Locals are determined to struggle to the end. We are not going to twiddle our thumbs and will voice our lawful demands.”

“Presently, over 21 tailing ponds operate in Armenia and the Ministry of Nature Protection does not have precise data about the volume, chemicals and heavy metals of the ponds. Or it has information but does not make it public which leads to the violation of the right to a healthy environment,” Galstyan concluded.

Lilit Arakelyan, Editor-Coordinator

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