A senior government official accused Armenia’s largest mining company on Thursday of trying to hush up a toxic waste spill that contaminated a river flowing through the southeastern town of Kapan.
The accident was reported near a “tailings” dump of the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC) early in the morning. Officials said that a leaky pipe connecting the dump with ZCMC’s ore-processing facilities sent a stream of industrial waste flowing into the already polluted Voghji river.
According to Levon Petrosian, the head of the regional branch of the state Inspectorate Body on Environment Protection and Natural Resources, the pipe was swiftly replaced by ZCMC workers sent to the site. “The river is still brown,” Petrosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service in the afternoon.
He said his agency took water and soil samples from the contaminated area and sent them to Yerevan for detailed examination.
ZCMC said that the leak lasted for up to 40 minutes. Minister for Emergency Situations Felix Tsolakian blasted the company during a cabinet meeting in Yerevan which discussed the accident.
“They kept things secret and didn’t [immediately] say that such an accident happened,” claimed Tsolakian. “The [ZCMC] bosses didn’t say that and carried out quick repairs.”
“I don’t know what he meant by ‘kept secret,’” Petrosian said when asked to comment on Tsolakian’s claims. “All I can say is that when our inspectors heard the alert and went there the pipe was already replaced.”
Environment Protection Minister Erik Grigorian told reporters that authorities are now ascertaining the damage inflicted on the environment. He complained that Armenian environmental legislation sets “ridiculously” small fines for mining firms violating it and must be toughened significantly.
Faulty and old tailings dumps are thought to be a key source of environmental damage caused by the Armenian mining industry which generates more than 40 percent of the country’s exports.
ZCMC, which is nominally controlled by the German metals group Cronimet, is the sector’s largest enterprise employing more than 4,000 people. It is also Armenia’s number one corporate taxpayer.