The Mystery of Mining Waste Dumped In An Armenian School

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Beyond Akhtala, the site of our very first cleanup project in Armenia (read more in Armenia’s Toxic 10th-Century Monastery), our team came across various other polluted sites including a school, which apparently had been used as an informal dumping ground by a mining company.

We found mounds of highly toxic waste all around the school grounds (see photos below). We were shocked and very concerned to see children playing around the exposed piles of poison, unaware of the dangers. Obviously, this called for immediate action, and we began planning on a mode of action.

Shortly after, however, to our surprise, we found that the toxic materials had suddenly vanished. Someone had come and removed the toxic waste away from the school in the middle of the night! We can only guess where it has been re-dumped.

We found the contamination at the school and identified 29 pollution sites as threats to the health of Armenians following two years of field research conducted through a partnership between Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth and the American University of Armenia. This was the first independent, comprehensive assessment of toxic pollution in Armenia.

By spotlighting pollution in Armenia, we are making the threat more visible to prompt cleanup and raise awareness. Dumping toxic waste at a school should not be tolerated anywhere in the world.

While the immediate danger to children at the school we assessed is reduced, there is no guarantee that more toxic materials will not be dumped there in the future. As to what happened to the dangerous waste that was mysteriously moved in the middle of the night? Did it end up in another school or neighborhood? For now, there is no way to know.

Toxic dump at school

Red arrows mark where the highly toxic piles of mining waste had been dumped on the school grounds.

Toxic dump at school

Red arrows show the close proximity of the school buildings to the mounds of toxic waste dumped on the school grounds.