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Chemical Plant Staff Charged In Accident Probe


Armenia -- Onlookers watch as black smoke billows from the Nairit chemical plant in Yerevan hit by an explosion on 14May2009

Armenia -- Onlookers watch as black smoke billows from the Nairit chemical plant in Yerevan hit by an explosion on 14May2009

Three managers at Armenia’s largest chemical enterprise have been indicted in a criminal investigation into powerful explosions that killed four people and injured two dozen others earlier this year, police said on Wednesday.

The two explosions ripped through the Yerevan-based Nairit plant on May 14, destroying a facility used for storing chloroprene -- a chemical substance that generates synthetic rubber, the company’s main product. Dozens of firefighters, rescue workers and ambulance medics were rushed to the scene. Many of them suffered burns and smoke poisoning while trying to put out the fire.

Shortly afterwards, the Armenian police and the Nairit management launched separate investigations to determine the cause of the deadly accident. A spokesman for the police, Armen Malkhasian, told RFE/RL that the police inquiry was completed and sent to a Yerevan court this week.

Malkhasian said three senior Nairit executives, including the head of the production unit where the blasts occurred, will stand trial for negligence and grave violation of safety standards. The charges carry between two and five years’ imprisonment and a permanent or temporary ban on professional activities.

Nairit declined to comment on the development. “Officially, we have not received such information from the police,” Anush Harutiunian, a company spokeswoman, told RFE/RL. “We have no right to publish anything until we receive it.”

Harutiunian said a Nairit task force has also finished its separate inquiry but claimed to be unaware of its findings. “It’s a closed document that will be publicized only after they send us the findings of the [police] investigation,” she said.

The chemical giant has periodically faced emergency situations blamed on its obsolete Soviet-era equipment and poor safety standards. In one such instance, two Nairit reservoirs containing inflammable industrial waste caught fire that raged for two days in December 2006. Nobody was seriously hurt at the time.

The May accident came just one month after Nairit resumed its work following a nearly five-month stoppage blamed by its management on the global economic crisis. According to Harutiunian, the plant currently employing more than 1,000 people only recently resumed production of chloroprene.

“The plant has started the process of gradually restoring production operations,” said the Nairit spokeswoman. “We can’t say yet that the process is complete, but it’s in progress.”
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