A government agency is investigating a toxic waste spill from a copper mine in northern Armenia that reached a nearby community earlier this month, Environment Protection Minister Artsvik Minasian said on Monday.
The leak occurred at a tailings dump of a privately owned company operating the old mine. It sent a stream of industrial waste flowing to some parts of the nearby small town of Akhtala, including the courtyard of a local school and an adjacent park. They were not cleaned up for at least ten days.
Local residents said last week they fear that the foul-smelling substance is rich in hazardous heavy metals and therefore poses serious risks to their health.
“It is abnormal when the first reaction to such situations is not very rapid,” Minasian told a news conference, criticizing the company. “That is why we are now carrying out systemic changes [in environment protection.]”
Minasian said a new environmental inspectorate set up by the government is now “meticulously examining” the causes of the Akhtala accident. He urged the media not to blame anyone before the end of the inquiry.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on December 21, a representative of the Akhtala mining firm blamed the spill on a leaky pipe. He also denied that the waste contains heavy metals. A local environmental activist claimed the opposite, however.
Minasian said that the government is planning to enact new legislation that will set tougher environmental requirements for mining companies. In particular, he said, they will have to come up with more detailed plans for ensuring the safety of their tailings dumps that have long been a key source of mining-related concerns voiced by Armenian ecologists.