By Ruben MeloyanRescue workers were trying to put out a massive fire at a big chemical plant in Yerevan that raged for a second consecutive day on Monday, emitting large amounts of toxic gas.
Some 600 tons of inflammable industrial waste stored in two reservoirs belonging to the recently privatized Nairit plant caught fire in still uncertain circumstances on Sunday morning.
Scores of firefighters were immediately rushed to the scene. They said that although the blaze was under control by next morning, they will take several more days to extinguish it completely. Massive fireballs were still billowing skywards from the reservoirs of ethinol varnish, a by-product of synthetic rubber, as of Monday afternoon.
This is the second incident of its kind registered at Nairit in less than two months. Some 150 tons of the substance, which is subject to disposal through combustion, were burned there in a similar fire on November 12.
Nikolay Grigorian, deputy director of the Armenian government’s Rescue Service, said he suspects the plant management of deliberately setting fire to its stockpiles of ethinol in order to avoid extra costs and time needed for their destruction. “I would like to take the risk and say that a deliberate intent is evident here,” he told RFE/RL.
But the Nairit director, Ruben Saghatelian, strongly denied this. “This substance is prone to self-immolation, especially if it is stored for man years,” he said.
Under official safety regulations, the ethinol varnish can not be stored for more than a year for that reason. Nairit has not disposed of the waste for nearly a decade.
State prosecutors did not immediately launch criminal proceedings in connection with the latest fire. They are currently investigating a September gas explosion at Nairit that injured four residents of a nearby Yerevan suburb and damaged a number of local houses. A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General’s Office said three Nairit employees have already been charged with negligence.
The once thriving chemical giant has gone through difficult times since the Soviet collapse and is still struggling to remain afloat despite repeated changes of ownership and management. Its most recent privatization was announced last August when the Armenian government approved a complex deal with an obscure British-registered firm. Energy Minister Armen Movsisian said last week that the new owner, Rhinoville Property Limited, has pledged to invest $120 million in Nairit in the next few years.