By Armen Zakarian
Top executives from the Nairit chemical complex sought on Thursday to downplay the significance of the previous day’s fire at Armenia’s largest chemical factory, saying that its environmental effect is comparable to the combustion of gasoline.
The fire took place at a storage facility containing more than 2,000 tons of ethanol varnish, an inflammable liquid that develops during the production of synthetic rubber, Nairit’s main product. The chemical giant, which was split into two separate companies last year, keeps it as industrial waste.
The director of the Nairit-2 factory, Samvel Mamian, told RFE/RL that the blaze, which sent clouds of black smoke to the sky, lasted for less than half an hour and burned only a small part of the stored ethanol thanks to a prompt intervention of fire fighters. He said the damage to the environment was minimal.
“The environmental damage was practically the same as the one caused by cars. The gasoline emissions have a similar chemical structure,” said Levon Kocharian, chief of the environmental protection division of Nairit-1 where most of the chemical complex’s production facilities are now concentrated.
Nairit-1 is also the only functioning unit of the Soviet-era sprawling factory located on the southern outskirts of Yerevan. Last February it was placed under the management of Ransat Group, a London-based company that pledged to invest $25 million and ensure a threefold increase in its production in the next three years.
The bulk of the factory’s huge debts totaling $54 million were transferred to Nairit-2 which is now undergoing bankruptcy proceedings. Company executives complained that the freezing of its assets prevents them from disposing of the combustible substances that easily catch fire in hot weather.
Many Nairit employees said they are unaware of Wednesday’s fire as they gathered outside the factory gates to demand payment of their back wages.