The article “Kalush and the Dead Sea” by reporter Olha Skrypnyk, in collaboration with Contaminated Future and SCOOP colleagues in other countries, was published on July 24, 2015 by the website www.zn.ua at http://gazeta.zn.ua/ECOLOGY/kalush-i-mertvoe-more-_.html
By: Olha Skrypnyk
Experts that monitor the environment marked all of the objects on a map of Europe that endanger the health of not only the current, but also future generations. Our biggest pity is that this horrible list includes Kalush region of Ivano-Frankovsk region, which is notorious for being an “environmental disaster zone.”
The ecological problems in the industrial area of Kalush have been building up for decades, since Soviet times. In 2010, the stars of the sky and of Ukrainian politics finally came together and lit up the relief of the territory – tailing pits, fields with hexachlorobenzene (HCB) the Dombrowski quarry, and sinkholes in farm properties. Since then, the environmental problems of Kalush and neighboring villages have been the subject of close oversight by central government officials and officials from the Ivano-Frankovsk Region Administration. There have been many of these people already. As they all reassure us, they are giving their maximum effort. Into what? Every person that knows about Kalush’s problems have their own answers to this issue.
“The goal is to get the maximum amount of money from the central government budget and to ‘appropriate’ it properly,” said Kalush resident Olha Sykora, who has been dealing with environmental issues for many years (While she was an MP in parliament in the previous convocation, she worked in the committee on ecology. She not only visited this region herself, she brought a delegation of MPs so they could see for themselves what was going on in the environmental disaster zone.)
“In order to resolve the environmental problems of Kalush region, everybody contributed – the public, local ecologists and journalists. The informational wave reached Kyiv and finally officials reacted to it. However, when it came to allocating money from the budget, somehow officials appeared in the front who turned this issue into a so-called ‘pump’ – a source for laundering money”, said Olha Sykora:
How much money has been used to deal with environmental problems in recent years?
UAH 1.270 billion! And this is when the exchange rate was UAH 8/USD 1. (In total close to USD 159 mio)
“The situation with hexachlorobenzene, which everyone cares about so much, is one part of a huge fraud scheme that goes by the name ‘Kalush, environmental disaster region.’ Everybody knows that the biggest danger to our region is the Dombrowski quarry. However, all attention is given to the utilization of hexachlorobenzene, which was first carried out by a Ukrainian and then by an Israeli company”, said Olha Sykora.
Leaking bags with HCB
“Together with journalists from Kalush, we once took a trip to go and check how this process was going. They were carrying out white bags on open trucks; it was raining and all of the chemicals were draining from the truck to the road and from there into the soil, etc. I sent a request as an MP to Ministry of Ecology and the Prosecutor General of Ukraine. A representative of Israeli company S. I. Group Consort Ltd. reassured me that everything was being done legitimately. Law enforcement said that they did not receive proof from the U.K. or from other countries that hexachlorobenzene from Kalush was delivered there in that amount. There is no proof even that the company that was delegated to utilize these chemicals is even registered in the U.K. I would not be surprised if it turns out that it does not exist at all. So where did these millions of hryvnias go? Who helped the Israeli company with all of its court cases and helped it demand money from our government? It is very surprising that our law enforcement cannot figure this out”, said Olha Sykora.
The legal sins of the past
In March of this year, parliament created a “temporary investigative committee on the issue of investigating the conditions of the theft of government funds while providing services to utilize dangerous hexachlorobenzene waste in Kalush region of Ivano-Frankovsk region in 2011-2014.
Did they manage to find out anything new?
The MPs have not publicized anything about it. A journalistic request from ZN.UA was not responded to.
According to local ecologists, who better than anyone else know about the situation, hexachlorobenzene went from being a problem to a generous feeder for officials and those organizations that deal with it. Regardless of the fact that the final burial of hexachlorobenzene took place after the closure of production in summer 2000, in recent years officials’ reports of the amount of these chemicals has increased by three times and already amounts to more than 30,000 tons.
“What we know for sure is that there was 11,000 tons of hexachlorobenzene that was produced and buried,” said Mykhailo Dovbenchuk, famous ecologist and head of the NGO Karpaty Green Movement. “ The number is not in doubt since this is exactly how much was produced.
“After graduating from the institute, I worked at that plant and specifically in the department where they received hexachlorobenzene. It was a French project to produce herbicide that had many flaws. Hexachlorobenzene was received as a byproduct, from which they planned to produce herbicide for seed processing, but in the end they couldn’t do it. They started packing it in barrels back in 1973 and by order of the directors of the company, for three years in a row, accumulated it near the forest outside of the city. At that place, there are already trees and nobody even suspects what is hidden under the soil”, said Mykhailo Dovbenchuk.
When 11,000 becomes 30,000
“With time, they created a special field, built a storage facility there with ventilation and took all of the barrels there with hexachlorobenzene. The burials took place legitimately – there were dug out trenches (mini-pits), they filled them with barrels and covered them with soil. Overall, in this field owned by the company Oriana-Halev, according to reports, 11,000 tons of hexachlorobenzene was buried. In 2010, officials reported about the removal of 8,000 tons of hexachlorobenzene from this field. After that, they created and signed an act that on this field there remained… 22,000 tons of hexachlorobenzene. That was not the end of this wonder. There appeared a new document where it said that near the Dombrowski quarry, they found 7,000 tons more of hexachlorobenzene”, said Mykhailo Dovbenchuk:
“It was never carried to that destination from the production plant. How did it get there? Who estimated that amount and how? They say there are some reports that it was some institute from Dnipropetrovsk, but they do not want to show it to us.”
Why do you think somebody is making such tricks with numbers?
“All for money. They really enjoy sucking money out from the government budget and this process has been going on for a few years in a row, starting back in 2010. This manipulation allowed the Ivano-Frankovsk Region Administration to sign a new agreement last year with that same Israeli company that removed the initial 7,000 tons of hexachlorobenzene. To carry out non-existent hexachlorobenzene!”, as Mykhailo Dovbenchuk points out to us:
“There is no proven fact that it was buried near the quarry and in such large quantities. Maybe somebody put a truck of soil from the special field with remnants of hexachlorobenzene, quickly took samples of the soil and decided that it amounted to 7,000 tons. Meanwhile, the country has to pay for it. Court processes have been started. There already have even been some court decisions not in favor of the region administration”, said Mykhailo Dovbenchuk
The lucky Israelis
In the halurgy scientific research institute in Kalush, they shrugged their shoulders when asked a question about how hexachlorobenzene got on the edges of the Dombrowski quarry. Documents and the testimony of former plant employees said that burials took place only at the special field and that 12 trenches were prepared to do that. Only 1-9 trenches were fully filled and covered with soil. The 10th one was not fully filled with waste from this French project; it was half-filled and the last two were filled with water.
What was the point of taking the hexachlorobenzene to the quarry if there was free space in the special field? Maybe somebody took a few barrels to the quarry accidentally? Or maybe somebody took a few barrels there at the request of someone else?
“Kyiv scientists somehow noticed facts that local scientists could not see. The management of the Institute on Environmental Hexochemistry of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine said that they provided scientific/methodological support to utilize hexachlorobenzene. They took samples in which they found very high concentrations of hexachlorobenzene. When asked a question about how they found out that the area contained specifically 7,000 tons of poison, they answered very shortly: from the testimony of local residents and because hexachlorobenzene was carried specifically into the quarry.
This probably became the grounds for another big campaign to utilize hexachlorobenzene from Kalush. This time it was carried not from the special field, but from the quarry. As it is known, the Israeli company was lucky again – in addition to its earlier victory in the tender where it made UAH 616 million (USD 77 mio) , it got another victory of almost UAH 400 million (USD 50 mio) in government budget money.”
Fraud with data
ZN.UA managed to obtain a document that proves that expert bodies have doubts regarding the objectivity and professionalism of this so-called scientific/methodological support. Independent experts invited by the Security Service of Ukraine analyzed the materials from this scientific report, which led to the utilization of hexachlorobenzene from the quarry.
These experts revealed that not only were he results not factual, but also evidence of falsification of data. They wrote about it in their reports: “The findings of hexachlorobenzene in water in concentrations exceeding its dissolution level by 200-300 times proves that they sampled not water – but slurry.”
“The data on the concentration of chlorine in soil of 20-50% does not correspond to reality.” “The concentration of chlorine of 96% in bulk samples of hexachlorobenzene waste loaded in barrels is nonsense. This is the concentration of chlorine in tanks of technical chlorine.”
There were enough comments to amount to a few pages of text with a small font. Now it’s law enforcement’s turn to find out for whom and why such a “scientific” report was prepared.
The law that recognized Kalush as an environmental disaster zone was surprisingly “effective” – it existed only for three months, but thanks to that, money has been sucked out of the budget for five years already.
“It was not the removal of chemical waste, but the removal of budget money in particularly large amounts,” said Roman Pereimybida, head of the ecological NGO Green Peace Karpaty: “According to the report, they already utilized 31,000 tons of hexachlorobenzene and spent more than UAH 1.2 billion (USD 159 mio) The amount of hexachlorobenzene is easy to calculate – I worked in the past at the production plant for almost 15 years and I know it very well.
With the production of carbon tetrachloride, for each ton of this chemical, a certain amount of hexachlorobenzene is produced. Judging from the amount of products, we can say that it was 9,000-10,000 tons of hexachlorobenzene.
The amount was increased to 30,000 tons only to demand large sums of money from the government budget to utilize it, said Roman Pereimybida.
From Ukraine to Poland
Hexachlorobenzene has caused scandals not only in Ukraine, but abroad too. Journalists from the Scandinavian and Polish media have looked into the situation in Gdansk where they found bags with hexachlorobenzene, including some that were torn, which were piled in one heap that had come from Kalush for utilization. The scene was viewed as a threat to the environmental safety of the Baltic region. However, the investigation of air, water and soil did not show amounts of hexachlorobenzene that exceeded the maximum allowed concentration, which calmed the community. Our ecologists think that it is more proof that for this utilization project they are carrying out not poisonous chemicals, but soil with small concentrations of it. Otherwise, how would there be dozens of thousands of tons of hexachlorobenzene if only three times less was produced? According to information from the Ministry of Natural Resources, almost 21,000 tons of hexachlorobenzene was sent to Poland. It is not surprising that residents of Baltic cities started raising the alarm.
From HCB to Potash
Representatives of European ecological funds, journalists, and documentary filmmakers, with the support of the international project SCOOP got interested in the ecological problems of Kalush, which have scared Europe so badly. On site, it appeared that the biggest danger to the environment is not the special field with hexachlorobenzene, but the Dombrowski quarry, which can poison not only residents in the Transcarpathians, but also in neighboring regions and countries that take water from the Dnister River.
“In the Dombrowski quarry, they were open mining potash – layers of it were located near the surface,” said Yuriy Sadoviy, deputy director of the National Halurgy Research Institute: “The layers were so huge that potash could have been mined for another 50 years. We lost a very valuable resource base, which was easily accessible and profitable, since it was a strategically important product for our agricultural country.
With the increase in the level of water, brine will dissolve toward the inclination of the aquifer, meaning toward Kalush and the water intake for the Limnytsya River. A lot of salt that was immovable has already been washed out in slides and has gotten into the water intake”
Yuriy Sadoviy: “The water in this water intake flows from west to north-east – in the direction of the Dnister. It seeps through and washes out the remnants of salt, creating new channels. This process is gradually intensifying – seven years ago the level was 40 meters lower!
Small rivers Syvka and Kropyvnyk carry water near the Dombrowski quarry and tailing pit. Salt from the tailing pit has been getting into the Kropyvnyk River for 50 years already. In this time, dozens of tons have gotten into the Dnister River.”
Does anybody watch the quality of water consumed in Kalush and neighboring villages?
“Nobody is controlling it systematically. We do not study wells, but we control it in boreholes, where we have found mercury and other heavy metals.”
When they allocated money from the government budget to overcome the ecological problems, they also included money to fortify the north wall of the Dombrowski quarry. Did it help?
“At the quarry there was a ledge that for dozens of years remained in place. The quarry’s ‘rescuers’ took off its rock layer and in its place put a much lighter soil, which led to the ledge sliding and cracking. Meanwhile, on paper, they wrote that they built a dam, on which they spent a lot of money”, said Yuriy Sadoviy
What has to be done in the nearest future in order to not get a second Stebnyk?
“Stop searching for hexachlorobenzene, which was not carried here and concentrate on the problems of the Dombrowski quarry. Long ago the Syvka River went through the quarry; its flow was redirected to the side. First of all, we need to isolate the wall through which the water from Syvka is seeping in. Then, we need to start utilizing the brine. The situation could be rescued if potash mining is renewed.”
Won’t that lead to new risks and problems?
“Right now there is new technology that allows for the minimization of ecological problems. There are investors who are interested in processing brine from the quarry, but they do not want to hear about the potash. (Potassium hydroxide) Our parliament is slowing down the entire process because our MPs are lobbying for the import of potash fertilizers to Ukraine. Every year we invest more than USD 8 million into other countries’ potash industries. On top of that, we spend UAH 1 million on imitation fortifications for the quarry.”
Re-use of HCB
Kalush region’s environmental problems are being exploited by others, as they want. Once, before the elections, a candidate loudly proclaimed that he was ready to spend any amount of money for the welfare of Kalush residents – to utilize hexachlorobenzene in the U.K.
Since then, there have been jokes about such a highly developed country like Ukraine that can afford to spend UAH 1 billion to utilize barrels of soil poisoned with hexachlorobenzene and utilize it to such an underdeveloped country like the U.K.
“Hexachlorobenzene is a very valuable chemical,” said Valeriy Stankevych, M.D. and head of the soil, hygiene and waste laboratory of the A. Marzeyev Institute of Hygiene and Medical Ecology. “Why would you remove it? There are methods for processing hexachlorobenzene that can be done in Ukraine. The money wasted on transportation could be used much more effectively. Benzene is a chemical that can be actively used in organic chemistry.”
Plants that are utilizing hexachlorobenzene either burn it or process it?
“Why would you burn something that is so hard to mine and produce? There are technologies that can allow you to split hexachlorobenzene into its components and use them as raw materials.
In Kalush they are talking about removing the hexachlorobenzene again. Research shows that the maximum level of hexachlorobenzene in soil samples is at most 20 grams per kilogram. Chlorine can easily be neutralized; it is sufficient to just mix it with lime. For benzene, bacteria that can breakdown oil or other chemicals can be used”, said Valeriy Stankevych:
“The most alarming is the Dombrowski quarry. There is a chance that this is the most dangerous place on the entire ecological map of Ukraine. It has accumulated about 20 million tons of concentrated brine. Every year the level of brine increases by 2-3 meters and its quantity increases by 2-3 million tons.
Brine gets into the groundwater and dissolves the ledge of the quarry. Stebnyk, compared to the Dombrowski quarry, is like a match in the wind. Soil samples from the quarry contain mercury, cadmium and arsenic. They can already be found in wells too.
In the water samples from boreholes, they are regularly finding mercury, but somehow nobody is talking about it. The technology used by the Kalush plant where hexachlorobenzene was produced is similar to the one that was used at the Kyiv plant Radical, since in Soviet times production was similar. At Radical, they accumulated about 200 tons of mercury, which caused problems for many years. So what should we do with the mercury from Kalush? No matter how much I ask about it, nobody knows.”
Maybe they don’t want to know?
“If water samples from wells contain mercury, this problem needs to be dealt with seriously. My teacher, academic I. Trakhtenberg, studied the influence of mercury on live organisms for many years. It causes irreversible processes. The problem cannot be ignored or postponed until later, because it can lead to tragic consequences”, said Valeriy Stankevych
Dead Sea Resort & Spa of Kalush
In Kalush, there are people who care about the problems of the Dombrowski quarry. However, officials, on whom decision-making depends, do not see any danger. Maybe that is because they cannot lobby for another billion hryvnias to remove the brine, like they can for hexachlorobenzene, and otherwise they are not motivated at all?
“While talking to scientists, we were hoping to find interesting, effective suggestions,” said Olha Sykora. “There are specialists who suggest to evaporate the brine, but there are too many obstacles to do that.
“The most ‘original’ idea was a suggestion from employees of Lviv’s Hyrprom, who offered to setup a resort at the Dombrowski quarry. Just like on the Dead Sea in Israel. They spent a lot of time persuading us how profitable it would be – people would come from everywhere, bathe in the brine and pay money to do it.
All of this was discussed not just anywhere, but at meetings with the head of the Ivano-Frankovsk Region Administration. Right before that, the head of the Institute of Oil & Gas described how much of these elements that are so dangerous to people’s health and to the environment (mercury and lead) have accumulated in the quarry.”
What do you think – is it possible to resolve this problem in a way that will help Kalush residents and save the environment?
“I am afraid not. During Maidan and at the start of the Anti-Terrorist Operation, we temporarily put off ecological problems. We were hoping that we would elect a new country and new people would come to government offices – that everything would change and that we would live new lives. However, it appears that nobody cares about ecological problems and the people who suffer from them”, ends Valeriy Stankevych