The Mystery of Mining Waste Dumped In An Armenian School

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.

Armenia’s Toxic 10th-Century Monastery (PHOTOS)

The modern world has finally caught up with Akhtala, a historic town with a 10th-century monastery and church in Armenia.

Years of mining and metals processing have provided jobs to the community, but at a grave cost.  The grounds of the historic building, a community focal point where children play and residents picnic, is contaminated with toxic levels of arsenic and heavy metals that is poisoning residents.

P1110498

The polluted site is one of 29 in the country that were recently identified 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.

[Related: The Mystery of Mining Waste Dumped In An Armenian School]

“When you think of Armenia, you don’t immediately think of pollution. In fact, not many people within the country grasped the scope of the threat partly because they did not have any way to assess, identify and measure the levels of contamination,” explained Andrew McCartor, Blacksmith’s program director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

“So one of the first things we did was to bring over two piece of equipment to Armenia.  One to measure lead levels in blood, and the other to analyze heavy metals in soil. That proved groundbreaking.  The deadly pollution, which they could not see before, was suddenly visible.”

Toxic Ravine

Toxic Ravine: The area on the left, which looks like a bare field, is the location of a deep V-shaped ravine that has now been filled nearly to the top with toxic mining tailings dumped there.

Blacksmith/Pure Earth experts found toxic pollutants such as heavy metals and banned pesticides.

Over the past few months, we have conducted various educational campaigns to alert residents to the dangers.  Now, we are moving that effort to the U.S. to raise awareness among Armenians here in support of the cleanup.

Last week we invited Armenians in the New York and New Jersey area to the latest edition of our popular toxic cocktail event, where guests learn about global pollution while drinking custom-made concoctions given a lethal look.

The event, generously hosted by Diana and Charles Mkhitarian, moved us closer to our $25,000 goal to fund the first cleanup project in Armenia to remove or contain the contaminated soil at Akhtala.  The project will serve as a model for cleaning up the rest of the country.  Please donate to help complete funding for this effort so that we can begin life-saving remediation next year.

To learn more about global pollution and what you can do to support crucial cleanup work in poor countries, contact us about hosting a toxic cocktail party.

Related: