Kalush – a human disaster zone

Number of cancer-stricken people in Kalush is higher than the  average in Ukraine.

By Tom Heinemann & Morten Hansen


We drive to Kalush from Ivano-Franskie after crossing the Carpathians from Slovakia. The road is bad. Most of the time we drive in the middle of the road. The small car is wobbling – as we are trying to avoid the worst potholes. When we reach the border of the urban area, a gate is welcoming us to Kalush in different languages. The writing on the gate is almost faded away. As we enter the city, it’s obvious that the city of Kalush is one that used to be.

Back in the days were the city was a regional center for chemical development and production and attracted international staff. It was a time when we thought chemical achievements could create a better world by increasing agriculture production.

Later we realized that some of the chemical achievements had a cruel disadvantage.

Over time the chemicals accumulates in nature, animals and humans. It causes several diseases and we now know why: The huge amount of chemical waste that followed the production. Yet,  all we said was: “No problem, we just store it, bury it, get out of sight and mind”.

That was also what happened to approximately 11.700 tons of Hexachlorobenzene (HCB) in the area of Kalush. The HCB was waste from a plastic production, also known as PCB. But HCB is also a fungicide which was previously used for seed treatment, especially grain to prevent fungal attack.

In Kalush they tried to improve the HCB-waste from the PCB-production – however, the HCB was not clean enough to be used for agricultural purposes. So they simply buried it in numerous dumpsites around the area.

That was back in the happy seventies.

Almost 40 years later – in 2010 – Kalush was declared an “…environmental emergency/disaster zone” by the then president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko.

Experts from the EU and UN along with international donors rushed to Kalush and funded a cleanup. Kalush was going to be saved from environmental disaster as most of the HCB were disposed. Most of it, that is.

Since then, nothing has happened in the “disaster zone”, except that the local people still suffer – and the fact that there are still plenty of HCB dumped in Kalush

Doctors being gagged  – City Mayor talk

HCB is not only an environmental problem. It’s also carcinogenic and can cause severe damages to your liver and your skin.

Today – in 2015 – citizens living in the area of Kalush are characterized by lethal sickness and a numbers of other disabling diseases.

Apparently, this is not something that the authorities want’s to talk about in Kalush. During our stay in Kalush, we meet an oncologist doctor who tells us that he is banned to talk to journalists about what he describes as “…the alarming high numbers of cancer-stricken people in the area. Much higher than the average in Ukraine”

But he’s afraid of the sanctions and that’s why he only wants to speak with us off the record.

However, we managed to obtain a 2011-report from a so-called roundtable discussion among environmental experts from the EU, UN as well as local and top brass politicians from Ukraine. During the meeting, the City Mayor of Kalush, Mr. Igor Nasalyk expressed his concern about the health related problems following the massive pollution of HCB and other chemicals in the area. The rapporteur notes that Mr. Nasalyk “….attracted major attention of the audience explaining that the level of oncology illnesses in Kalush area is much higher than even in the neighbor districts.”

Where Mr. Nasalyk got his information from, isn’t clear. Official records from the National Cancer Registry of Ukraine does not reveal any numbers: “We publish cancer statistics annually on our website, but regretfully Kalush statistics is not presented there. Probably Ivano-Frankivsky oblast (region) cancer registry have cancer incidence rates for whole Kalush region, not only for Kalush city, and share this data with you.” explains Olena Soumkina, scientific officer at the National Cancer Registry of Ukraine in an email to Contaminated Future.


Despite the alarming news on the number of cancer-stricken people, the local citizens seems not to be aware of the problem.

Gagged doctors or officials is not issuing any warnings about the high risks of living in Kalush.

A small and random survey at the town’s main center, reveals a very low awareness among citizens in the streets. Topics like unemployment, the risk of houses falling or sinking into the ground and environmental problems related to a huge pig farm nearby occupy more attention by the local people than the hazardous chemical waste dumps surrounding the city.

Only one out of ten mentioned the open-cast mine and the chemical waste as a problem.

In the nearby village Krapyvnyk we meet a group of senior citizens. They are more aware of the problems living even closer to the contaminated area.

“We have frequent funerals – 2-3 times per week. Life is not easy here, but we also have all this chemical waste close to us. Lots of people cough all the time and we have lots of hypertonia cases”, says one of them.

“My brother had his house built near the mine, so he have to get drinking water from Kalush as the water is bad here. They used to dig here, unloaded waste and new underground waters arrived. Generally speaking, there is almost no good water here.

It’s too bad when water contains salts, metals etc., you cannot water any plants, you cannot use it for the cattle and the people.”

In our backyard as well

From the area of Kalush in the Western parts of Ukraine close to the borders of Slovakia and Poland, the contamination with HCB in Kalush can and will affect millions of people in different countries, says former chairman of the EU Scientific Committee on Toxicology and Ecotoxicology (CSTE), Professor emeritus in Environmental chemistry, Finn Bro-Rasmussen:

“We might find them (HCB) in other countries all the way up to the Arctic areas. You can find it in Polar bears and birds living up there. The HCB are brought there either by sea or by air and they are practically indestructible”

For decades the retired Danish professor have investigated the environmental consequences especially regarding the many dumpsites in the former Soviet republics:

“The situation as a whole developed to a point where it was practically beyond control. It’s not possible to clean it up. It’s an overwhelming problem”, says Finn Bro-Rasmussen.

Six years ago – in 2009 – the City Mayor of Kalush, Mr. Igor Nasalyk warned about the future consequences:

“I appeal to the authorities in Ukraine and other countries: sooner or later this will become a problem not only for the city, not only for our country, but, I think, for Europe as well. That’s why all those who care about the ecology of Western Europe and Eastern Europe simply must pay attention to Kalush”.

Today, problems must be solved, says Danish MEP, Christel Schaldemose:

“We need to act politically and we need to find the money. The countries concerned have no money to tackle this huge problem, so if we don’t help in the EU we got a real big problem. We shall, we can and we must help”.

Question is, as we are leaving Kalush on the same bumpy roads we came from, if there is a will to do something about the problem.

Or maybe the will turns out to be as faded as the text on the gate.

an investigation into dumping of obsolete pesticides