Mercury Chernobyl: On the question of environmental safety on the example of the "Radical" plant

Mercury Chernobyl: On the question of environmental safety on the example of the "Radical" plantIn the early 2000s, the fishermen were surprised - in the rivers, where previously the fish had almost disappeared, the species reappeared, which allegedly were extinct many years ago. The answer to the question "why?" was easily given by the State Statistics Committee. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the industrial plants began to shut down. This, of course, had a negative impact on the economic welfare of the citizens, but had the great positive impact on the environment.

The emissions of polluting substances have been reduced from 1990 to 2004. And then there was a rise again. And it is not only connected to the fact that after several waves of privatization the industry began to revive. In the Soviet Union people preferred to close the eyes on the problem of the environment, energy efficiency and other "whims".

As a result, the factories were built without serious consideration of environmental issues. And when the new owners came to them, in the majority of cases the situation became even worse than it had been before.

Even the conversion of the enterprise from dangerous production to something completely harmless does not help to solve such problems, as neutralization of equipment or accumulation of waste products.

Even if you ignore the pollution of water and soil and focus only on the air, it turns out that for every Ukrainian the annual emission of noxious substances accounts for more than a quintal. Statistically, it means about 10 tons in the life span.

The top harmful three includes the leaders of environmental pollution: the processing industry (37% of the total air pollution), the production of electricity and gas (34.5%) and metallurgy (29%). At the end of this list there are the enterprises producing coke, nuclear materials and refined petroleum products (2%), communications’ enterprises and transport companies (4.7%).

It is easier to breathe in the Kherson and Chernivtsi regions where the harmful emissions do not exceed 10 and 5 kg per person, respectively. The worst situation is in the Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk regions, where the numbers are three times higher than the national average of pollution. But Ukraine is not China, our GDP falls short of the gross sales of any big corporation like "Nestle".

In the 21st century there is no good reason to treat the environmental issues as it was 30 years ago. Nevertheless, it still happens. In Kiev, such an approach is perfectly illustrated by the plant "Radical". It was engaged in the production of chlorine and caustic soda by mercury method. The company has been the production site of hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid, potassium chlorate, DDT (dust), plant protection chemicals and other chlorinated chemicals. In addition, in the research departments at the plant research work was conducted on the production of herbicides, biologically active and other organochlorine compounds. After the proclamation of independence of Ukraine, due to the rupture of the economic relations and the economic crisis, the demand for plant’s production ceased. In the end, integral plant’s complex was privatized and divided into parts.

And environmental safety was the last problem to be taken into account. Neither the Ministry of Industry of Ukraine nor Kiev authorities bothered to qualify the enterprise as environmentally dangerous. Maybe because the plant at the time was subordinated to the Ministry of Chemical Industry of the USSR. Or, perhaps, it happened because of the simple carelessness.

Whatever the reason, from the mid of 1996 bankruptcy proceedings started. The plant was close to collapse. Consequently, the production was stopped without taking the necessary precautions.

In addition, it is worth noting that the environmental problems at the time had not yet received significant publicity and appropriate attention. On the territory of Kiev it was not the only one that caused a lot of problems in terms of environmental safety.

Due to the incompetence or negligence of the new owners - accompanied by complete indifference of state bodies - the harmful chemicals have remained on the territory of the plant. Naturally, it happened in violation of the law.

The territory was divided and later used for the construction and conversion of plant’s buildings for the offices. The filling stations, firms selling household appliances, service and insurance companies have appeared, transportation companies and a lot of other companies were placed on the territory of the plant.

From time to time the city authorities have the outbursts of "ecological consciousness." After yet another hype raised by the environmentalists and activists, the officials promise to pay attention to the problem and even somehow solve it. Basically we are talking about mercury contamination.

No one has doubts about the fact that the buildings themselves (or, better to say, what remains of them) are oversaturated by the mercury remains and the territory of the former plant it heavily polluted. But the area must be cleared not only from chemical production residues, but also from equipment and hazardous waste that must be utilized.

In 2012 Anatoly Holubchenko, as Deputy Chairman of the Kyiv City State Administration, promised that in 2013 the soil, equipment and metal structures contaminated by mercury would be removed. The program was scheduled for five years. The allocation of 134 million USD (for the then dollar exchange rate) was declared, but it was mentioned that it was not enough because of the lack of necessary facilities for recycling.

The idea of mercury collecting and processing on the plant territory was being considered. It was planned to remove residues and waste products, transport them to Donetsk region to Gorlovka mercury plant. In 2013, it was decided to carry the waste for processing not in the Donetsk region, but to another state. But those were only promises destined not to be fulfilled. In 2014 the city officials said that for the full cleaning of "Radical"’s area significant resources from the state budget were required, and the allocation of these funds had not been resolved. The city administration had the money which covered only sampling and organochlorine wastes’ uploading into special containers. Nothing was said as to the question what had to be done with mercury and where was possible to get the money for the deactivation.

More than once the issue of environmental safety of the plant "Radical" factory was raised in the Ministry of Environment. The Ministers came and disappeared, the emphasis was shifted from one point to another. In 2011, the Law "On Basic Principles (Strategy) of State Environmental Policy of Ukraine for the period till 2020" was passed. Even the funds were provided on the implementation of the measures stipulated in the law. There was a hope for neutralization and utilization of hazardous waste.

But despite the fact that something had been done (according to the Ministry of Natural Resources’ press service, from the territory of Gorlovka chemical plant the amount of mononitrohlorbenzol was taken away), there was no time for introducing real changes to the plant “Radikal”. But this production site, where hazardous waste is stored is on the territory of Kiev. Unprotected sandy soils, penetrating to a greater depth, together with the high level of groundwater contribute to heavy Dnieper pollution. This is enough to sound the alarm.

And there are communication systems of the plant, sewage treatment installations for the removal of mercury and other hazardous substances from the sludge by thermal method, there is the sewer system. And all this is not suitable for use. And it is dangerous.

This is a complicated question, concerning not only the remains of dangerous chemicals. There are a lot of similar industrial zones in Ukraine, and the issue should be resolved at the state level. The local authorities, even if they were interested in solving the problem, will not be able to accumulate the necessary funds.

But it is still possible to do something right on the spot. For example, the simple inventory of dangerous objects can be done. There should be present the appropriate analysis of the regulatory framework in order to enable (or not) the use of contaminated areas/facilities which were given for building purposes without any environmental impact assessment and any environmental evaluation. Many issues are not regulated by the laws, but simply by the regulations. And often we have to face the enforcement issue, not the law implementation. So, the main problem is not the lack of legislative basis or the absence of their categorical force. The problem is that the persons authorized to solve ecological issues seem to be bored to death by it.

Or maybe it is just a lack of political will?

Maryna Bryl

Translated by Maria Kryzhanovska
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