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Kyrgyzstan (Sovetskoe) – Cleanup of Lead Contamination

the details…
Key pollutant
Lead smelting, mining & ore processing

Soil contact



Population affected
Children Under 6 Affected
Lead smelting
Cost of project
USD 79,000
UNIDO and European Commission
Project Partners


European Commission

The town Sovetskoe, population 1,800, once had an active lead and zinc ore mining and processing operation.  Although the industry is no longer active, high-levels of contamination remain from the decades of smelting.  The soils have high levels of lead as was indicated by the initial screening assessment conducted in 2013 as part of the Toxic Sites Identification Project (TSIP).  The purpose of the initial assessment was to confirm the findings of the initial screening, collect more data, and assess the possibility of cleanup.
The field assessment was successful. Main contaminated areas and pathways of exposure were identified. The local authorities expressed great interest in removing lead health risks through a cleanup project.

The first stages of the cleanup began in September 2016 and the project completed around six months later. Additional testing and monitoring has been, and will continue to be, done.

High concentrations of lead in the environment are dangerous and are especially hazardous to small children. Children are the most susceptible part of population when it comes to lead poisoning. The main risk factors in Sovetskoe are lead contaminated soil, dust, water, and local food. Additionally, people put themselves at risk in Sovetskoe by using contaminated sand from tailings for construction purposes. The concentration of lead in that sand is generally 1000-4000 mg/kg while Maximum Allowable Concentration (MAC) in Kyrgyzstan is 32 mg/kg and the cleanup trigger level in USA is 400 mg/kg. In November of 2016, the cleanup team, headed by Pure Earth lead the remediation crew of local workers. The result was about 400 metric tons of soil removed from the area. About 40 tons of clean soil and 45 tons of clean sand were brought in.

In October 2016, special rechargeable ion-exchange water filters were installed in the school, kindergarten, and boarding school. The newly cleaned water is used for drinking and cooking, and not only in the schools, but also by other residents in the area. There is a noticeable difference in the water before and after filtering. The filtered water is collected in 2 installed 1000 L tanks and used for preparing food for children in schools and kindergarten. Local residents are encouraged to use this clean water and bring it home.

Before the intervention, the level of awareness of local people about lead health risks was extremely low. The residents were reluctant to believe in lead health effects. Only blood lead testing showed the local residents that exposure of children to lead was real. After this, most of the residents started cooperating in removing the contaminated sand from their yards. Printed materials developed for the project have great value as they could be used in other places in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. The remediation of the area greatly improved the environmental situation in town. Most importantly now the majority of people in the area stopped using contaminated sand for construction purposes.

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