The Armenian police said on Monday that they have formally launched criminal proceedings into the mysterious digging up of an industrial grave near Yerevan that dangerously exposed large amounts of toxic waste.
The Soviet-era burial site located near the city’s southern Nubarashen suburb contains more than 500 metric tons of DDT and other poisonous substances that had been used by Armenian chemical enterprises.
An Armenian journalist and several environmentalists discovered late last month that unknown individuals had broken into the site, tearing down its fencing and flattening a mound of land covering the waste with bulldozers or other heavy machinery.
Responding to their dire warnings, the Armenian government has scrambled to restore the site with 31.6 million drams ($82,000) in emergency funding approved on May 7. The government has been widely criticized for its slow response to what ecologists regards as a potential environment disaster.
A national police spokesman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that a criminal case has been opened under two articles of the Criminal Code dealing with substantial damage to property and violations of safety standards that put many lives at risk. Nobody has been questioned or detained as part of the inquiry yet, he said.
Meanwhile, senior officials from the Armenian ministries of environment protection and emergencies assured journalists that relevant authorities have already put warning signs around the burial site and are now busy covering it with new thick layers of soil and clay, restoring its water drainage system and circling it with barbed wire.
They said the urgent measures are only the first phase of a waste disposal program envisaged by the government. They said its ultimate objective is the destruction of the dangerous chemicals.
“We have no destruction facilities in Armenia,” said Hovannes Yemishian of the Emergencies Ministry. “Transporting it to another country is also problematic.” The transportation process alone could cost $2.5 million, he told a news conference.
“We could appeal to the Russian Federation which has many such facilities and can destroy such substances very well, and it would cost us less,” said Anahit Aleksandrian, the head of an Environment Ministry department dealing with toxic waste disposal. “Our main problem is transportation,” she added, alluding to the fact that Armenia has no common border with Russia.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian likewise said on May 7 that the destruction process will be costly and require funding from Armenia’s foreign donors.