Poisoned land in Kalush

Poisoned land in Kalush is produced and broadcastet by Socialna Kraina TV. The program was supported by SCOOP.

Read the translation into English below:

Poisoned land in Kalush

It is hard to imagine, but all of this beautiful landscape is not a recreational resort, but an environmental disaster zone. This beautiful lake is actually a Dombrowski quarry of potash ore waste. It is one of the three biggest burial sites of hexachlorobenzene in the world. In the past, it was the site of a large potash magnesium salt mine. Now it is a huge water basin with saline and a flooded complex of mines with a crater at the bottom of the basin that is 270 meters deep. However, this is not the only dangerous place in Kalush.

Activists are showing a landfill of solid waste where barrels with hexachlorobenzene were buried. So what is this substance?

Kateryna Norenko, ecologist from the public organization Ecology, Law and Human: Hexachlorobenzene is one of the 12 most toxic chemical substances in the world that are artificially synthesized and do not exist naturally. These substances have five main characteristics. First, they are extremely toxic to the human body. Second, they accumulate in the human body over time and can be passed on via trophic chains, which means they are hard to get out of the body. Third, they are extremely resistant to decaying in the environment and they cannot be broken down by either photo, biological or chemical means. Fourth, they have a high ability for transborder migration via air or waterways. Fifth, they settle very far from the origin.

The landfill is already partially covered with grass and trees that have grown over the last 30 years. With time, this wound in the land has been healing and the salty territory has become green.

Mykhailo Dovbenchuk, head of the public organization Green Movement Karpaty: This landfill became dead. Nobody was interested in it. It basically became a piece of land that nobody owns or cares about, basically a burial of extremely dangerous waste.

Maybe this local burial would have remained a local legend if officials in the ecological sphere did not decide to free local citizens from such dangerous waste nearby. However, what initially looked like good intentions turned to hell. Before the elections in 2010, a presidential order was given proclaiming the territory of Kalush and villages Kropivnik and Sivka Kaluska (Kalush district, Ivano-Frankivsk oblast) as being an extreme ecological disaster zone. At the legislative level, they ratified a list of actions directed at resolving Kalush’s problems and, of course, they allocated money to implement these actions.

Yuriy Sadovyi, deputy director of the scientific division of the National Halurgy Research Institute: The ecological community initiated the process to attract attention to the problems that have accumulated over many years. At that time, dangerous objects were outlined: in Kalush, which has a history of ore mining, there was a huge ore mine right in the city, which is located right underneath us right now; there are two more mines in neighboring villages Kropivnik and Sivka Kaluska. There is a quarry and other objects such as a landfill with waste and other places with unknown amounts of various chemical waste that have been stored over time. In addition to everything, there is a landfill with hexachlorobenzene, where this chemical is stored in an unknown condition. Initially, this landfill was specifically created to store and safely preserve this chemical. Even though initially people only wanted to find out the condition of this chemical, how safe the storage for it was, and whether it was influencing the health of the community, the main problem that concerned the community was the possibility of landslides and cracks, and saline coming out and getting into the water and soil, which would kill the source of drinking water for the local community. However, people who are connected to money allocations somehow got more interested in the landfill with hexachlorobenzene.

According to this scientist, Kyiv has shifted its attention from something much more important to something that was not important for local citizens. In June 2010, Kalush officials signed an agreement for construction work with the Kyiv company Finance-Energy Corporation of Ukraine. According to this project, they were supposed to conserve the Dombrowski quarry and rebuild outer eroding slopes #1 and #4 and two tailing pits. As you understand, with the extreme situation, nobody cared about tenders and this large order was given to a company that nobody in Kalush had ever heard of. It was highly recommended to the local community by the Ministry of Regional Development and Construction of Ukraine. In order to calm down the local community, Kalush officials promised that the companies that would have contracts at local objects would be registered in Kalush, pay taxes into the local budget and be constantly controlled. However, reality turned out totally different.

Roman Peremybyda, NGO Green Peace Karpaty: Instead of dealing with the ecological/environmental problems, until today, all we have seen is money laundering and imitations of fighting ecological problems. As we can say roughly, they opened up the grave, plowed some soil and – without completing anything – left. They only laundered 1.2 billion in money and did nothing else. No locals were included in the work at the landfill and they did not let the ecologists from the community close to the object. Mykhailo Mykhailovych arrived at the landfill and within seconds the guards ran to him and, with their bare hands, pushed him away, asking him why he came and made him leave. They said that they were not going to let him in anyway.

Regarding the amount of costs allocated and where it was sent from the state budget, there are different numbers. The head of the Sivka Kaluska Village Council helped us figure out who got paid for what and how much it cost.

Lyubomyr Bereslavskyi, former head of the Sivka Kaluska Village Council: In 2010, money was allocated to deal with ecological problems. Of that, 100 million was taken away by Ihor Nasalyk for medical equipment. Of that 100 million, he used 51 million to lay a pipe from tailing pit #2 to the quarry and another 300 million remained with the regional administration. According to the regional ecologist, Roman Vasylivych Kravets, this 300 million was used for hexachlorobenzene instead of on resolving the issues of local residents.

The aforementioned Ihor Nasalyk was the mayor of Kalush at that time and we will return to this person later. At the moment, we have to state that the biggest transportation of chemical waste in Europe in terms of scale became a source for making money on people’s problems. Moreover, state budget money was used on a private landfill for solid chemical waste.

Yuriy Derevyanko, Verkhovna Rada MP: All of this chemical waste is on the balance of a private company that in the past used to produce mineral fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides. This company, which is a private company, is still not closed so it still exists and is the official heir to this waste.

NGO Green Movement Karpaty Head Mykhailo Dovbenchuk went to the Accounting Chamber with a request to explain how the state budget money was used. The answer was that the administrative work performed in accordance with the presidential order, which proclaimed Kalush, Kropivnik and Sivka Kaluska in Ivano-Frankivsk oblast an environmental disaster zone, was at an unsatisfactory level in 2010 since it did not provide the local community with appropriate protection for their lives and health and it stabilize the ecological situation. The reserve fund of the state budget, in the amount of 398 million hryvnias, was used ineffectively and in violation of the law.

Accounting Chamber of Ukraine: Activities on the utilization of hexachlorobenzene waste in the Dombrowski quarry took place after the approval of the Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Natural Resources. From the state budget, 298 million hryvnias were allocated, from which 266 million was paid to foreign companies, exceeding the amount of expenses. This number exceeded the budgeted costs from the technical/financial rationale for the project by twofold.

The story of the removal of dangerous chemicals from Ivano-Frankivsk region has a chance of being among the top stories of the most inventive crimes in the history of Ukraine’s independence, says MP Yuriy Derevyanko. MPs are trying to prove that the company Concord Ltd. carried not hexachlorobenzene waste from Ukraine, but only partially poisoned soil.

Yuriy Derevyanko, Verkhovna Rada MP: This is their way of cheating. Payments were done for certain work, while in reality they carried out something totally different.

The carrying out of dangerous chemical waste looks like one big fraudulent scheme from the very beginning to the end. The problem is not only with wasting budget money, but also that the concentrated hexachlorobenzene, a chemical with the highest danger level, which was stored in an amount of 11 thousand tons near Kalush, is disappearing in unknown direction.

The landfill that was built in Soviet times consisted of nine modules, with trenches at the bottom of which there was a natural layer of clay covered with plastic and at the top, one on top of another, there were rows of 200-liter plastic barrels containing 90% hexachlorobenzene. All of this was covered by sand and stones on top and again covered with a plastic layer and coating of clay. Unfortunately, it is impossible to reach these barrels and look at this concentrated hexachlorobenzene since the landfill has been covered with water for many years. The containers have rusted and part of the chemicals have already seeped into the ground water. The mixture that the performers of the project scooped out and put in plastic bags was only a small concentration of the chemical and soil.

So, what was the real amount of hexachlorobenzene that was carried out in the past? According to deputy minister of ecology and natural resources, Dmytro Mormul, the concentration of hexachlorobenzene in the waste was 1.4%. So what happened to the 90% concentrated chemical? Maybe the ministry made a little mistake? No. So what is the point of all of that work? The point is the following – the more bags that they could stuff with that mixture, then the more money could be laundered by carrying it out. By the way, the ministry of ecology, at the beginning of 2010, found 11,000 tons and found 22,000 more tons of chemicals by the end of the year. Financing for carrying out these chemicals was allocated for two more years. Since, from Kalush, they carried out waste with a 1.4% concentration, they could easily keep finding more and more pits of “pricey” chemicals and keep milking the state budget for more and more billions. At the same time, ecologists are showing horrible numbers.

Kateryna Norenko, ecologist from the public organization Ecology, Law and Human: The concentration of hexachlorobenzene in the landfill exceeds the maximum allowed norm by half a million times.

We can make only the following conclusions out of this whole story. Taxpayers financed not the cleaning up of Ukraine of dangerous chemical waste, but a game with sand molds on a grand scale where the sandbox is Europe, molds weigh thousands of tons and not kids but big guys are carrying them out on real trains and ships.

Yuriy Derevyanko, Verkhovna Rada MP: Two criminal cases were opened. The first was a criminal case from March 21, 2013 on article 191, part 3 on wasting budget money by certain officials from the Ministry of Regional Development and Construction in the Ivano-Frankivsk Regional Administration and the second was a criminal case from June 16, 2014 also on the fact of wasting budget money in large amounts by certain officials in the Ivano-Frankivsk Regional Administration. In 2014, these cases were combined into one. Moreover, two additional cases were opened.

In order to figure everything out about this fraud case and protect the state budget from a company that is still demanding payment for work it performed and is blackmailing Ukraine to return these chemicals, the MPs created a temporary investigation committee in March 2015, which was to investigate the basis for the theft of budget money. It set a goal of finding who was guilty and punishing them within three months.

Yuriy Derevyanko, Verkhovna Rada MP: The amount of money that was spent in the entire period comes close to 900 million hryvnias, which is almost 1 billion and according to the old exchange rate would have been 140-150 million US dollars. This is a very large amount. As you know, each stage of carrying out waste was followed by certain investigations, including by journalists, etc.

However, in three months, MPs only managed to write letters with requests and left for vacation. Judging from the situation, the investigations and court battles with officials and contractor companies, which have already reached the international level in courts, will take years and those accused will definitely be proving their innocence since they are sure of their power. In the meantime, Kalush residents need not scandalous court cases, but a real resolution to their environmental problems, because while the fraud with hexachlorobenzene is dragging on, people are suffering. About 500 homes are in the influence zone of the Kalush ore mine.  In 20 years, there have been over 20 land cracks. In 2010, there was the 24th land slide and land crack.

Lyubomyr Bereslavskyi, former head of the Sivka Kaluska Village Council: We already have 24 land cracks; the same is expected at the Novohorolyn mine, which directly influences our village, Kropivnik, Sivka Kaluska and others. Urgent measures must be enacted. We still do not have a general plan since the village council does not have money for it. We will have to move people out from the houses that are directly above the mine, but there is nowhere to go. There are about 540 homes in Kropivnik and Sivka Kaluska are located directly above the mine with saline.

This is the village where in 2010 they already had to use budget money to move people from houses that fell underground.

Lyubomyr Bereslavskyi, former head of the Sivka Kaluska Village Council: In one family, a house and garage sank. We could barely get out the car. But now the situation is getting worse and worse because we see that there is gradual land subsidence.

However, nobody is seriously studying the risks of landslides or land subsidence or the hazards to people’s health in the region. A local doctor says that 1.5 thousand Kalush residents are suffering from various oncological diseases. According to Roman Peremybyda, only 1/10 of local workers live to the early retirement age. His family has also faced this issue.

Roman Peremybyda, NGO Green Peace Karpaty: My wife started getting sick regularly. Then her legs were paralyzed. As of right now, it is already the 16th year that she is tied to the bed with various diseases, including liver problems and her legs.

Roman’s son-in-law, who also worked at the chemical plant, died when he was 24-years-old for unknown reasons. A doctor in the Kalush hospital also shared sad statistics: people in this city get sick with oncological diseases much more than in neighboring regions.

Kalush Hospital Doctor: We get 35-45 people more in the city every year. In just 2014, in the oblast there were 279 people that got sick with oncological diseases per 100,000 people; in the region there were 273 and in Kalush city itself there were 314.

In the majority of cases, people contract cancer of the stomach and liver. 90% of all people who are sick with thyroid diseases in Ivano-Frankivsk oblast are residents of Kalush city itself. Is it connected to ecology? Nobody dares to take responsibility to say that because then the aforementioned company and the state would have to pay people huge compensation for the deterioration in their health.

And in the end, here is what is most important – Ukraine could have gotten rid of hexachlorobenzene waste absolutely free since we joined the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. However, it looks like this option is closed to Ukraine since at one of the meetings of the temporary investigative committee of the Ukrainian parliament, the representative of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources said the following.

Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources representative: A decision was made to stop allocating money to Ukraine, which means that Ukraine will not be getting any financing.

According to ecologist Kateryna Norenko, ecologist from the public organization Ecology, Law and Human, Kalush’s problems must be re-recognized and it must again be proclaimed an ecological disaster zone. This NGO sent a relevant request to the government.

Tetyana Rikhtun, reporter
Oleksandr Fenko, cameraman
Taras Bilovol, cameraman
Program: Social Ukraine

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