Mining, by its very nature, has a negative impact on the environment. Many countries, however, have adopted standards of operation that exhibit a greater sensitivity to the protection, preservation and restoration of the surrounding environment. These practices include, among others, reforestation, where applicable, and environmentally sound disposal of tailings and other waste material. Unfortunately, the Republic of Armenia does not follow such standards, despite public heavy public protest, with particular focus on the destruction of Teghut Forest. Quick and decisive action is required to prevent a possible environmental catastrophe.
Unfortunately, while international standards do exist to make mining operations as “clean” as possible, mining companies operating in the Republic of Armenia consistently violate the tenets of the Aarhus Convention of 1998, which requires governments to include public decision making regarding mineral extraction, production and processing in an “adequate, timely and effective manner.” Public participation is further required in project approval, legislation and rule making processes.
TEGHUT MINE–AN ONGOING BATTLE
The Teghut forest, in the north of Armenia, is one of the last old growth primary forests in Armenia. Unfortunately, it is also the site of an intense struggle between environmentalists, public health and human rights activists, and the mining company, Vallex, which owns the land and has already begun operations. However, in the current economic climate, securing funds has become an issue and the Teghut project now sits, uncompleted but still a looming threat.
A 2011 article report by Transparency International shows that the government has failed to abide by the strictures of Aarhus specifically as it relates to the mining in Teghut. Click here to view the complete compliance report.
Another 2011 article discusses the conclusions reached by a 2010 Aarhus Compliance Committee report from Geneva regarding the government’s violations. It states:
The new bill on minerals protects the rights of mining companies in prejudice of the environment. In particular, it does not tax companies for the damage caused to the environment by waste and unconditioned minerals. Neither fines nor payments are imposed on tailing dumps. Actually, all the mining companies that launched activity in Armenia are registered offshore (italics added).
Policy Forum Armenia also conducted a study, in 2010, of the Teghut mining issues. Their conclusions are dire and numerous, and include the following, amongst others:
The exploitation of the copper and molybdenum ore buried in the Teghut mountains will result in clear cutting of the forest.ACP’s (Armenian Copper Program) plans to mitigate the damage … is inadequate and unrealistic. To date, there have been no independent and comprehensive field assessments conducted by international or local organizations. The ACP-funded EIA for the project lacks impartiality, contains errors, and used double price standards, showing lower costs and higher benefits. The tailings sludge represents a great danger to the environment: local residents will breathe the dust from its dry surface, and, at the same time, heavy metals and chemicals will seep into the soil and may eventually flow into streams and groundwater. The base of the reservoir will be constructed of clay. However, clay layers/liners can leak over time. Most modern tailing reservoirs use High Density Polyurethane (HDPE) liners…
Find the full 2010 report, The State of Armenia’s Environment, available for download on the Policy Forum Armenia website.
For specific laws and conventions violated in regards to Teghut visit PFA’s Facebook page.
For more on the Teghut mining operation, visit the following articles:
AEN blog series on Teghut mine, February 2012
Trees are crying ..Are u listening?, August 2010.
Mining for Molybdenum?: Environmentalists Raise More Protests Over Teghut Impact, September 2008.
Jobs Trump Environment as Armenia Opens Giant Copper Mine, June 2007.
Heavy Metal River, February 2011.
Armenian, Georgian NGOs Ask Government to Stop Teghut Mining Project Until Environmental Impact Assessed, February 2011.
Related to the Teghut mining operation is the nearby copper smelting plant in Alaverdi. This photo shows the unfiltered smoke from Alaverdi copper smelting plant.
The UNEP/OSCE generated a study on Alaverdi’s environment and urban development. The report concludes, among other things that:
The copper mining and the explorations in the territory are of a serious threat for the environment of the region. Because of pollution from the copper processing plant, 15-20 times exceedances of the maximum permissible concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the ambient air are often registered in the city, which is a serious hazard for the human health. The city does not have a landfill, and the solid wastes are discharged directly into Debed River.
Note also Table 3.2 (pg. 25) showing comparisons of atmospheric emissions between Armenia’s major cities. Alaverdi has significantly greater atmospheric pollutants than the other urban areas, much of which is the result of the unfiltered copper smelting plant in the heart of the city. 99% of the emissions are sulfur anhydride (dioxide) which are produced in the process of smelting ores, such as copper. The report further states:
It should be mentioned that there is no pollution prevention systems enacted, hence all the substances released from the pollution sources appear in the environment … Deforestation, enormous volumes of atmospheric pollution, exceedances in the permissible levels of pollution of soil and water resources finally have their irreversible impact on the ecosystem.
For more information:
Wisconsin’s Department of Health provides details on the origins of sulfur dioxide (anhydride). Also listed are some of the adverse health effects.
This article discusses birth defects occurring in Alaverdi.
For a look at this ongoing situation, click on the link to this blog entry dedicated entirely to the Hrazdan Mine.
LERNADZOR URANIUM MINE
The Armenian-Russian Mining Company (CJSC) is proposing to establish a uranium mine in the Syunik province near the village of Lernadzor. The company is in the exploration phase to determine whether there are sufficient uranium deposits to justify the investment. Again, environmentalists and other groups have expressed grave concerns about issues involving public health, safe management, the need for the mine and the effects it will have on the local ecology. The Armenian government claims the mine will be “safe if done properly”. If Teghut is any indication of a “properly” run mine, than the Lernadzor operation has the potential for a major human and environmental disaster.
Articles on proposed uranium mine in Lernadzor:
Armenia: Joint Project With Russia to Mine Uranium Stirs Environmental Worries, March 2009.
Armenia: Controversy Surrounds Uranium Mine, November 2009.
Against Mining: Syunik residents call for end of exploitation, November, 2010.
Armenians Fight Uranium Mine Plans, July 2010.
OTHER MINING ISSUES
There is no shortage of articles involving mining in Armenia. Below are links to just a few of them.
Article on aMP’s financial shares in an approved mining operation, from February 2011.
Another article on MP’s ownership of mining interests, June 2011.
Link to a site with various photos of mines.
Tailing Dump in Norashenik Contaminates Surrounding Community Land Areas, from February 2011.
Specialists Concerned About Tchotchkan Tailing Dump of Akhtala Ore Processing Combine: Combine Considers its Operation to be Safe, April 2010.
Report by Hakob Arbaki Sanasaryan, President of the Greens Union of Armenia, from January 2011, about the tailings reservoirs in Artsevanik, Agarak, Lichkvaz, Norashen and Geghanush.
Article entitled, Ecology: Pace approved resolution draft on Armenian mines impact on environment,January 2011.
Short article entitled, Tourism in Armenia More Promising Area than Mining Industry, April 2011.
Finding a balance between economic policies and sound environmental stewardship is a perpetual necessity. When achieved, the country, people and the ecology all benefit. When balance is ignored or sublimated to the desires of the few, everyone loses in the long run. Such is the case with the mining industry in Armenia. There is a display of blatant disregard for the health and welfare of people and the environment in Armenia. While many Armenians, both inside and outside of the country, remain unaware of these ongoing activities, the land and forests are being depleted, the population is being poisoned and impoverished, for strict economic gain that arguably ends up in the hands of an elite few.
Accepted Mining Industry Standards in the West
Although one mining company, the Vallex Group, claims to follow an environmental policy including public participation in the decision making process, transparency in financial reporting and corporate ownership and in Armenia’s environment specifically remains a serious problem with all companies, Vallex included. If all factors, social, environmental, and economic are taken into consideration for true “sustainable development,” it is clear that the triple bottom line necessarily includes humane and healthy work conditions, prudent stewardship of the land and its resources, and opportunities for the local populations and governments to provide input into decision making.
For an excellent summation and explanation of these standards, read Professor George Pring’s International and Environmental Human Rights Law Affecting Mining Law Reform report (2008). In this report, Pring reviews and summarizes the major resolutions created and adopted through collaborations between governments, mining interests, the scientific community and other stakeholders. These new “soft laws” are increasingly supported by mining interests and participating nations. Pring states:
There are no comprehensive international EHR laws directly governing the mining industry. But indirectly, international EHR law is increasing mining regulation – through promotion of more stringent national legislation, encouragement of private sector codes of conduct and buttressing court rulings. Significantly, leading mining industries support this trend, finding that national mining laws and rulings that protect environmental, human and cultural values enhance shareholder value, host country investment attractiveness, and the sustainability of businesses in the long term, according to mining industry sources like Mining, Minerals, and Sustainable Development (MMSD) Project.
The Pring report also summarizes some of its key principles for governments and the mining industry:
- High priority for environmental management (EM)
- Environmental impact assessments
- Pollution control and other preventative and mitigative measures
- Highest level environmental accountability
- Participation of the affected community and other directly interested parties.
- Adoption of best practices to minimize environmental degradation “notably in the absence of specific environmental regulations”
- Environmentally sound technologies
BEST PRACTICE GUIDELINES
- Berlin II Guidelines (2002)
The Berlin II Guidelines offer a working model for sustainable environmentally sensitive mining. A complete Pdf copy of the report is available on the webpage of the CommDev. Resource Center.
The ICMM, a coalition of many of the world’s leading mining interests, developed 10 principles as the foundation for operating a sustainable mining enterprise.
- Implement and maintain ethical business practices and sound systems of corporate governance.
- Integrate sustainable development considerations within the corporate decision-making process.
- Uphold fundamental human rights and respect cultures, customs and values in dealings with employees and others who are affected by our activities.
- Implement risk management strategies based on valid data and sound science.
- Seek continual improvement of our health and safety performance.
- Seek continual improvement of our environmental performance.
- Contribute to conservation of biodiversity and integrated approaches to land use planning.
- Facilitate and encourage responsible product design, use, re-use, recycling and disposal of our products.
- Contribute to the social, economic and institutional development of the communities in which we operate.
- Implement effective and transparent engagement, communication and independently verified reporting arrangements with our stakeholders.
INVESTMENT DECISION MAKING IN MINING INDUSTRY
The Equator Principles are self-described as a “credit risk management framework for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in project finance transactions.” Learn more at the official website.
The GRI seeks to enhance the transparency and reporting process within the mining industry. Pring suggests that G3 guidelines “can be used to benchmark an entity’s compliance with hard and soft laws, codes, performance standards, and voluntary initiatives and thereby demonstrate commitment to sustainability.” The report provides that:
Sustainability reporting is the practice measuring, disclosing and being accountable for organizational performance towards the goal of sustainable development. “Sustainability reporting ”is a broad term that is considered synonymous with other terms used to describe accounting for economic, environmental, and social impacts (i.e., triple bottom line, corporate responsibility reporting, etc.) A sustainability report should provide a balanced and reasonable representation of the sustainability performance of the reporting organization – including both positive and negative contributions.
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For reports and other publications relevant to this topic, see our Publications page.