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A Toxics-Free Future


Strengthening Civil Society Organizations Dealing with Chemical Safety Issues

On August 11, 2015, in Minsk, Belarus, the second sub-regional seminar of IPEN Participating Organisations was completed. The event was coordinated by Eco-Accord, IPEN Hub for Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA), and Centre of Environmental Solutions (CES), Belarus, and was attended by NGOs from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine, and representatives of IPEN and the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Ukraine. They discussed issues associated with strengthening civil society organisations working on chemical safety. The first seminar of the series was held in June 2015, in Almaty, for Central Asia countries. 

The Minsk seminar incorporated several sections, namely:

- Chemical safety issues in countries reported by participants of the meeting;

- Main provisions of three chemical conventions (Stockholm, Basel and Rotterdam) and their linkages with national priorities:

  • Waste management: waste incineration and alternative approaches;
  • Pesticide smuggling and criminalisation of hazardous waste management; and
  • Highly hazardous pesticides: the situation in EECCA countries.  

- Mercury contamination and the Minamata Convention:

  • Activities of NGOs to promote ratification of the Minamata Convention; and
  • Interaction of public agencies, businesses and NGOs to promote ratification of the Minamata Convention.

- The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management - the most important issues for EECCA countries:

  • Lead in paints;
  • Chemicals in products; and
  • Toxic substances in electronic waste (e-waste).

- Communication as the key tool for participation of NGOs in dissemination of information on chemical contamination issues; and

- Action strategies of EECCA NGOs in the sphere of chemical safety: main priorities, anticipated results, potential projects and their financing. 

The seminar once again proved that NGOs from different countries can cooperate, notwithstanding complex contemporary processes in the region. The seminar participants reaffirmed their readiness to continue joint activities and to strengthen the IPEN regional network in EECCA. IPEN members highlighted the importance of activities of the Network, which help to unite countries in addressing chemical safety issues despite the background of a complicated political and economic situation in the region. 

The seminar participants were provided detailed presentations on the provisions of three chemical conventions: Stockholm, Basel and Rotterdam Conventions. They discussed issues of waste and pesticides management, waste incineration as a major source of POPs emissions, and the illegal import of pesticides. The seminar participants discussed decisions of the "Triple COP" of the three chemical conventions (Spring 2015, Geneva). In the course of discussions at the seminar, the participants approved a Statement to governments of countries of the region on main issues of the Triple CoP of chemical conventions. 

After further discussions, the participants approved additional statements to EECCA governments on highly hazardous pesticides, ratification of the Minamata Convention on mercury and toxic substances in consumer goods. 

Chemical safety problems in countries-participants of the Minsk NGO seminar 

Waste management as the key issue of chemical security 

Among other priority issues of chemical security, the seminar participants focused on the need to address waste generation problem (including household and industrial waste, hazardous waste. obsolete pesticides, electric and electronic waste). All countries of the region face serious waste management problems that result in the growing spread of waste dumps, including unauthorised ones that contain wastes of different hazard classes. 

Now, East European and Caucasus countries lack reliable information on amounts, volumes and compositions of already accumulated wastes, including hazardous wastes, as well as information on annual generation, import and export of waste. Information from different sources demonstrates substantial deviations and does not reflect the real situation. 

For example, according to a Russian Federation (RF) Federal Dedicated Program (Elimination of Past Environmental Damages for 2014 - 2025), the country has accumulated 31.6 billion tons of waste, including 2 to 2.3 billion tons of toxic waste. At the same time, the RF Service for Oversight of Natural Resource Use reported accumulated waste stockpiles in the country at the level of 35 billion tons by early 2013. In 2014, the RF Service for Consumer Rights Protection failed to report information on solid household waste generation and utilisation to the RF Statistical Committee, while its data for 2012 - 2013 are not considered reliable. In Russia, waste generation (including all hazard classes) still remains more than twice as high as waste that is recycled. In 2013, areas under waste dumps and landfills increased by more than 1,000 ha, while in 2014, more than 5,000 ha were added. See information of the RF Service for Oversight of Natural Resource Use on SHW generation in Russia at Fig. 1 . 

Fig. 1 Accumulated (past) environmental damages

Russian Federation accumulated environmental damages 


According to Ukrainian NGOs, the system of hazardous waste management in the country is imbalanced, and relevant laws and regulations are not harmonised and often contradict to each other. National inventories and management plans for different types of hazardous waste are non-existent. In the period of 2014 - 2015, three ministers changed in the relevant Ministry - as a result, hazardous waste management lacks a clear program, as well as medium-term and long-term plans. 

The sphere of hazardous waste management belongs to licenced activities - relevant licenses are granted by the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine. According to Rabudovo NGO, as of 07 July, 2015, there were 299 active licences for economic activities in the sphere of hazardous waste management under the following headings: waste collection, storage, transportation, processing, recycle, disposal, elimination and burial. Companies with licenses for waste elimination operations seem to be particularly interesting (there are  30 licensed companies in the list). Sometimes, up to 5 companies are registered at one physical address. Some companies are registered at non-existent addresses. Monitoring activities of NGOs (including on-site visits, collection of photo evidence, submission of information requests to the Ministry of Ecology, the State Sanitary and Epidemiological Authority and the Ministry of Emergency Response, review of technical regulations, etc.) allow one to conclude that actually only eight companies have necessary waste processing capacity and really eliminate and/or process only some types of hazardous waste. 

According to NGO «Ruzgar» (Azerbaijan), Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment – AWHHE (Armenia), «Ecovision» (Georgia), and Georgian Association of Environmental and Biological Monitoring (GAEBM), a similar situation is developing in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia where numbers of illegal waste dumps grow, garbage is openly burned, waste flows are not separated and hazardous types of municipal solid wastes (MSW) are not collected. According to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) experts, annual generation of plastic waste in Armenia reaches at least  5000 tons, including bottles, packaging, PE bags, etc. (see Fig. 2). 

Fig. 2. Plastic waste in Armenia

Plastic waste in Armenia  

The seminar participants stressed that waste management is a lucrative business. Corruption, deregulation and monopolisation are clearly visible in all countries of the region. Businesses seek to monopolise waste management - these intentions are reflected by regulations that are drafted with active involvement of business entities. 

The seminar participants also noted that large amounts of waste are transferred to European Union (EU) countries for elimination. As a positive trend, it is worth noting that countries have started to gradually introduce the extended producer responsibility principle into their laws and regulations. The process of pollutant release and transfer registry (PRTR) development is also gradually gathering momentum. Related projects are already under way in Azerbaijan, Moldova and Belarus. 

Governments and industries in the EECCA region actively promote incineration-based technologies instead of environmentally sound waste minimisation, recycle and reuse technologies. So far, the high costs of waste incineration plants vs waste landfilling serve as a limiting factor. In particular, according to the RF Service for Oversight of Natural Resource Use, in the Moscow region, the average costs of landfilling 1 ton of MSW reach about RUR 300-400, while costs of a pre-incineration operation (waste separation) reach at least RUR 1300, while costs of the whole incineration of the same 1 ton of MSW may reach RUR 3.0 thousand or higher. The figures suggest that the waste landfilling option is cheaper. 

However, attempts to lobby for waste incineration plants in countries of the region do not cease, notwithstanding proven adverse health impacts of waste incineration operations. Numerous studies confirm that emissions of waste incineration plants result in higher blood levels of dioxins among plant workers, higher incidence of cancer cases (especially lung cancer and tumours of the respiratory system), higher incidence of birth defects and cardiovascular disorders among the new-born, premature births, etc. The experts that participated in the seminar presented data clearly suggesting that emissions of waste incineration plants are much more toxic than emissions of coal fired power plants (e.g. emissions of dioxins and furans are 28 times higher, mercury emissions are 6-14 times higher, lead emissions - 6 times higher, nitrogen oxides - 3.2 times higher, carbon monoxide - 1.9 times higher, sulphur oxides - by  20% higher). 

Fig. 3. illustrates risk zones under impact of a waste incineration plant. Pollution affects areas at a distance of up to 24 km from the plant. According to experts, cancer risks are higher at closer distances to the plant. In the risk zones, depending on distances from the plant stack, an individual:

  • cannot stay more than 30 minutes (300 m from the plant stack);
  • cannot stay more than 24 hours (500 m from the plant stack);
  • cannot reside (1 km from the plant stack);
  • will have minus 5 years in his/her expected life span (5 km from the plant stack). 

In Moscow, one waste incineration plant in the Rudnevo industrial zone has a higher capacity than all other Moscow plants combined, and is located in the area of intensive construction of new residential housing (near Lubertsy) (see 

Fig. 3 Risk zones under impacts of a waste incineration plant

Risk zones under impact of a waste incineration plant  

As the seminar participants noted, notwithstanding the above and other evidence of adverse health impacts of waste incineration (as well as economic disadvantages of waste incineration vs waste processing), NGOs have to monitor plans to construct new waste incineration installations continuously. Very recently, in December 2014, they launched a campaign against construction of a waste incineration plant in Saint Petersburg. In January 2015, the city Governor ordered termination of the plant design operations. However, the campaign was not cancelled after the decision. Under the coordination of Greenpeace Russia, the city residents mailed letters to the Governor, demanding provisions of waste separation and waste processing in the Waste Management Program (under review now) and to impose a moratorium on waste incineration in the city. So far, more than 17 thousand persons mailed their demands to Governor via the web-site

Pesticide management in Eastern Europe and Caucasus countries 

The problem of pesticide management is not less acute in the countries than that of waste management. The Minsk seminar participants noted that pesticide-related projects of IPEN initiated national inventories of obsolete pesticides in the region. For example, in 2004, the IPEN project "Public Environmental Inventory of Pesticides in Azerbaijan and Organisation of a Civil Movement for their Elimination" was implemented by Ruzgar NGO in Azerbaijan. In particular, the project incorporated an environmental expedition to identify stockpiles of obsolete pesticides. The project results were used as the base for development of a map of obsolete pesticides storages by the Ministry of Environment in 2009 (see Fig. 4). In 2012, official inventory data on obsolete pesticides in Azerbaijan were published (see Table 1), including locations and amounts of pesticide burials and contaminated areas. 

Fig. 4 Map of obsolete pesticide storage in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan map of obsolete pesticide storage 

Table 1

Inventory data on obsolete pesticides in Azerbaijan

Armenian NGOs highlighted the importance of IPEN projects to address pesticides-related problems. IPEN implemented several projects in Armenia that resulted in numerous initiatives. AWHHE started public monitoring of the Nubarashen burial of obsolete pesticides, working to raise the awareness of local farmers on non-chemical alternative approaches to plant protection, and carrying out an assessment of the health impacts of pesticides.

Ukrainian NGOs noted in their presentation that overall stockpiles of banned and obsolete pesticides in Ukraine reach 8407.5636 tons (official inventory data). The pesticides are distributed among about 900 storage facilities. In Vinnitsa, Kherson, Sumy and Odessa oblasts, the overall amounts of obsolete pesticides exceed 500 t. 

According to Russian NGOs, issues of safe application of pesticides and agricultural chemicals still have not been legislatively settled in the country. At its session, the RF National Audit Chamber reviewed the results of the Audit of Efficiency of Application of Funds Allocated in 2013 - 2014 to the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision for Purposes of the State Program for Development of Agriculture and Regulation of Markets of Agricultural Products, Commodities and Food for 2013 - 2020. The Audit Chamber noted that the legislation due still does not provide for standards of safe management of pesticides and agricultural chemicals, including extremely hazardous or very toxic chemicals, pesticides and agricultural chemicals are applied without any control, while a third of all seeds sold are of unknown origin. 

According to NGOs, Russia now lacks technologies for elimination of obsolete pesticides (including POPs pesticides) that underwent state environmental appraisal and could be authorised for implementation at the federal level. According to very conservative estimates, several thousand tons of banned and obsolete pesticides are now stored in the territory of Russia (inherited stockpiles of the former Soviet Union). Constituents of the Russian Federation regularly report on their interim successes in elimination of chemicals (by some obscure means, as there are no duly appraised technologies authorised for application!); however, even by such questionable means not many regions and municipalities can afford the luxury of eliminating obsolete toxic chemicals quickly. According to international standards, costs of a proper elimination of 1 ton of pesticides cannot be lower than € 4 thousand (without logistical costs). 

The experiences of Moldova and Belarus are of some interest, as these countries have managed to deliver substantial amounts of banned and obsolete pesticides to EU countries for elimination. For example, according to Moldova NGOs (Ecotox and Ecocontact), in the period from 2007 to 2015, 2,766 tons of obsolete pesticides were transported to EU countries and eliminated, and 31 of  37 centralised pesticide storages were emptied. 800 tons of obsolete pesticides are stored in 6 storage facilities and about 4,000 tons are buried in Southern Moldova. According to Belarussian NGO Centre of Environmental Solutions, 3 of 7 old burial sites for obsolete pesticides in Belarus (inherited from the former USSR) were emptied, and their contents were transported to the EU for elimination.

Pesticide smuggling 

In her presentation at the seminar, the representative of OSCE Ukraine referred to the problem of smuggling in counterfeit pesticides as a part of organised international crime. According to OSCE, internal production of counterfeit pesticides is on the rise (use of false labels; use of false packaging or empty original packaging; small-scale production, including mixing and reducing concentrations of  active ingredients; sale of chemicals in small quantities). Pesticides are supplied from India, China, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine annually imports 100,000 tons of pesticides, including 25% of counterfeit substances i.e. wastes. See geography of counterfeit pesticides production at Fig. 5. 

Fig. 5 Geographic distribution of counterfeit pesticides

Geographic distribution of counterfeit pesticides 

Counterfeit pesticides usually belong to hazardous waste and it is more and more difficult to prevent their entry to countries. They are traded on the internet. Pesticide preparations may be delivered in small batches, presumably for personal use. Already treated seeds may be sold. Pesticides that were banned for import may be imported under other names, while banned substances may be declared as mere components. 

Highly hazardous pesticides in countries of East Europe and Caucasus

In the course of discussions on pesticides, the seminar participants referred to a relatively new problem for countries of the region - the problem of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs). Widespread application of HHPs have resulted in health problems and deaths of people throughout the world - often due to occupational contacts with pesticides, as well as due to accidental or deliberate pesticide poisonings. According to the results of a project implemented by NGOs in 6 EECCA countries in 2014, from the range of 200 HHPs in the Food and Agriculture (FAO) / World Health Organization (WHO) list, 32 pesticides are authorised for application in Ukraine, 29 are allowed in Russia, 10 in Belarus and 15 in Moldova. HHPs are mainly imported to countries of the region from other countries. For example, Ukraine imports HHPs from 23 countries (96 companies), mainly from the EU, as well as from China, US, India and Israel. 

The NGOs discussed the importance of the development of a regional HHPs list for EECCA countries and the relevance of identification of comprehensive criteria for HHPs (i.e. in addition to FAO/WHO criteria, they should include updated research data on chronic health impacts of pesticides and data on endocrine disrupting chemicals). According to the NGOs, it is the current lack of information exchange on international HHPs criteria that results in continued production and application of HHPs in EECCA countries. Countries of the region need information on alternatives to HHPs - i.e. safer chemicals and ecosystem approaches to pest control (a key component for elimination of application of HHPs). The seminar participants emphasised that growing production and import of pesticides may result in accumulation of new stockpiles of obsolete pesticides in EECCA countries, which would aggravate the already difficult situation in the majority of EECCA countries.

Based on results of the discussions, the seminar participants approved a statement to relevant ministries of regional countries urging them to take measures for elimination of production, import and application of highly hazardous pesticides. 

Mercury contamination and the Minamata convention

The seminar participants were presented with a detailed review of the provisions of the Minamata Convention and key projects implemented by NGOs in the framework of the global IPEN campaign against mercury. In their presentations at the seminar, NGOs noted that many research studies of NGOs become the only available sources of information on area contamination in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia countries. Governmental environmental and sanitary authorities do not have full and reliable information on mercury pollution sources. As enterprises owners' changed, in some industries only minimal information on their mercury pollution sources remained available. 

Now, IPEN Participating Organisations implement several projects for identification of mercury-contaminated areas in different EECCA countries. Russian NGOs Eco-Accord, Volgograd-Ecopress and SPES presented results of their national project - Sources of Mercury Contamination in Regions of the Russian Federation - incorporating several projects that clearly demonstrate serious mercury contamination problems. These projects include assessments of mercury contamination in Krasnodarskiy Krai, the Volga basin and Irkutsk. 

Krasnodarskiy Krai - a mercury contamination hot spot 

A recently completed IPEN project in Russia included study of a mercury pollution hot spot in Krasnodarskiy Krai. Project activities covered the area of about 75 km2 , at the  territory of the mountainous forest zone of Abinskiy district of Krasnodarskiy Krai. The territory includes several human settlements: Kholmskaya, Sinegorie, Noviy and Grushki townships, with the overall population of about 23 thousand residents. Kholmskaya township is the main settlement there. Sakhalin mercury ore deposit is located at the distance of 15 km to the south from Kholmskaya township, at the foothills of the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range. Two main watercourses in the area include Khabl and Zybza rivers. According to local residents, in the last 20-25 years, fish in the rivers have almost disappeared, and if one manages to catch a fish it may be seriously "infested by worms", so local residents eat only fish from the Kryukov water reservoir. 

In the second half of the last century, "Krasnodarrtut" (a state-run industrial association) launched exploitation of mercury ore deposits at Sakhalin mining site nearby Noviy township. Initially, mining operations at the site went smoothly, three new underground mine galleries were cut, the ores had high cinnabar contents and - as a result - production targets were met without problems. However, later on, symptoms of mercury poisoning were observed among miners. Additional measurements of air mercury levels in mines did not reveal elevated mercury concentrations, but numbers of mercury poisonings increased at alarming rates. The mining facility managers decided to terminate ore extraction operations at Sakhalin ore deposit. However, the mine stayed idle only for a short time, as inmates of a strict regime penitentiary facility (Novosadoviy township) were mobilised to work in particularly hazardous mines. The ore from the deposit was transported to the mercury processing plant in trucks, through three residential townships - the ore trucks did not even use covers and such arrangements could hardly improve local environmental quality. 

The ore extraction operations included both open cast (with use of excavators) and underground mining. The mining activities at the site were cancelled due to the worsening socio-economic situation in the country, loss-making finance performance of the mining operations and poor management of the facility. In 1990, the underground mines at the site were closed, and in 1993 open cast operations were also cancelled. From 1993 to 1995, primary mercury was produced from earlier extracted ores, while in 1988 production of a secondary mercury law was initiated at the former mercury plant (since 1998, the plant belongs to a private company - "Kubantsvetmet" JSC). 

Now, "Kubantsvetmet" JSC includes a set of production facilities allowed to collect, store, transport, process and neutralise lead and mercury products. It is the only production facility in Russia that operates technologies and equipment for regeneration of lead and mercury. The plant's capacity allows processing of all types of secondary mercury-containing materials (up to 10 thousand tons/year) and production of commercial grade metal of up to 98.89% purity. Waste processing operations of the plant result in annual production of more than 20 tons of liquid mercury, which is further used by other production units of the facility. Recovered and refined to purity of 99.99999% mercury is used for production of mercury compounds - the facility produces mercury nitrate, sulphate, chloride, thiocyanide, sulphide and iodide. 

Production unit "Ekotrom-2" at the facility processes LB and LD type fluorescent lamps of up to 45 mm diameter (up to 500 lamps/hour). In 1998, the plant commissioned a reverberatory kiln for processing of scrap lead, allowing it to process up to 15 tons of feedstocks /day and a secondary lead recovery level over 99.0%. The kiln feedstock materials are supplied by a battery production plant. 

In 2000, some production capacity of "Kubantsvetmet" JSC was transferred to the newly established private company - Mercury Safety Agency Co. The company  specialises in provision of services associated with collection, transportation, processing and recycling of hazardous waste. Now, the facility receives mercury-containing waste (up to 1.5 million mercury-containing bulbs only), waste rubber, paints, plastics, liquid waste of oil refineries, clinical waste, outdated office equipment, alcohol-containing waste, animal husbandry waste, waste paper and board. In 2012, the Mercury Safety Agency Co. attempted to construct a major waste incineration plant (a unique one for Russia) nearby Kholmskaya township. The plant was intended to incinerate up to 50 thousand tons of hazardous waste, including oil slurries, oil-contaminated soil, chemical production waste, electric appliances, instruments, devices and their components, waste acids and alkaline substances, food and agricultural waste. 

Due to protests by local residents and the company's own failure to comply with the due legislation in the course of environmental impact assessment (EIA) procedures, the incinerator project was not authorised for implementation. However, according to local residents of Kholmskaya township, incineration units were nevertheless installed and now operate illegally. 

In Krasnodarskiy Krai, mercury levels in environmental media are almost never controlled. Levels of lead, benz(a)pyrene, zinc, cadmium, organochloride and organophosphorus compounds are monitored only in major cities and in large rivers of Krasnodarskiy Krai. Information of contamination by heavy metals may be found only in reports on research studies at specially protected territories of Krasnodarskiy Krai, including the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve (located to the southeast from Abinskiy district), that were implemented in mid-1990s. 

The study of mercury levels in water, soils and fish in the course of this project was actually the first such study in 15 to 20 recent years. 

In the course of interviewing residents of Kholmskaya township, they referred to large numbers of cancer-related deaths in the last 5 years among adult residents (aged from 35 to 70 years) at one street of Kholmskaya township, and a high incidence of leucosis cases in adjacent Chernomorskiy and Pervomaiskiy communities. In comparison with other districts of Krasnodarskiy Krai, Abinskiy district has the worst (more than 208 cases per 100 thousand residents) levels of mortality from cardiovascular diseases among residents of the employable age. 

Now, the RF Government is responsible for creation of the site as it is considered as a historical environmental liability. The site may be rehabilitated under the Federal Dedicated Program for Elimination of Historic Environmental Liabilities; however, the particular site is not incorporated into the Program. 

No plans exist now for cleaning and rehabilitation of the area. After decommissioning of the ore mining site, "Kubantsvetmet" Co. planned to process more than 7 thousand tons of ore (or about 6 tons of mercury), that were stockpiled nearby the plant. The same plant planned to process another ore stockpile (30 thousand tons or about 25 tons of mercury) nearby former mines and the open pit of Sakhalin ore deposit (former mining facilities). However, no information is available on implementation of these plans. 

From the range of 4 selected potential pollution sources (the mercury mining site, facilities of "Kubantsvetmet" and the Mercury Safety Agency, and the waste incinerator), local residents particularly focused on the Mercury Safety Agency and the waste incineration plant (that is not officially operational yet). 

Notwithstanding rather high awareness of local residents of potential adverse environmental impacts of the industrial facilities, they continue to eat mushrooms and berries from forests in the vicinity of the facilities, as well as fish caught downstream of the plants. 

The surveyed residents proposed rather radical measures to improve the situation - i.e. to close all these facilities or some of them. 

At the second stage of the project activities (in February - March 2015), a field visit was organised to collect samples. Fish samples were collected in the Khabl river (5 samples) and in the Kryukov Water Reservoir (1 sample). The sampling process was conducted with participation of local residents of Kholmskaya township and representatives of the Abinskiy district Administration. All the samples contained some mercury in different concentrations, while in 3 samples relevant MACs for mercury levels  in fish were exceeded (the MACs are set at the level of 0.3 - 0.4 mg/kg). 

Target groups of the project included representatives of authorities of Krasnodarskiy Krai and Abinskiy district, managers of the mercury-processing facilities and local residents. Representatives of the Abinskiy district Administration were involved in the project implementation activities from its earliest stage - in selection of sampling locations and in taking samples in the vicinity of the "Kubantsvetmet" facility. In the course of communicating with local residents at sampling sites, the representative of the Administration assured them that the District Administration is ready to serve as an active mediator in settling conflicts between the facility and local residents. Their interactions are associated with permanent conflicts due to unwillingness of the managers to maintain an open information policy and due to their specific production plans (e.g. with intentions of the Mercury Safety Agency to expand its hazardous waste processing operations).   

In the course of discussions on the problem and prospective activities in the future, the district residents expressed their serious concerns in connection with virtually non-existent pollution control and environmental monitoring activities in the district. They recommended and asked for similar research activities in connection with environmental contamination by lead and other heavy metals. 

Mercury contamination in the Volga basin 

The Volga basin with its overall area of 1,358 thousand km2 covers (fully or partly) territories of 39 constituents of the Russian Federation and 2 oblast of Kazakhstan (Gurievskaya and Uralskaya oblasts). The Volga has 151 tributaries (including rivers, watercourses and streams). The overall population of the basin reaches about 57 million people, including residents of 444 cities. 

In regions in the Volga basin at the territory of Privolzskiy and Central Federal Districts, some major areas of historic environmental damages are located - mainly chemical production facilities. Such territories include: Kirovo-Chepetsk (Kirovskaya oblast), Sterlitamak (the Republic of Bashkortostan), Volgograd, (Volgogradskaya oblast), Dzerzhinsk (Nizhegorodskaya oblast), Saransk (the Republic of Mordovia), several sites and facilities at the territory of Moscow oblast, etc. In 2014, the RF Service for Oversight of Natural Resource Use reported no existing sources of mercury emissions at the territory of Privolzskiy Federal District. NGOs do not agree with the Service. 

Dzerzhinsk is the largest chemical industry centre in Russia. According to the RF Committee for Hydrometeorology, in 1988, industrial  facilities of Dzerzhinsk emitted 0.14 tons of mercury annually. In the period from 1948 to 1982, a mercury cell unit for production of sodium hydroxide and chlorine operated at the territory of Caprolactam Plant (see Fig. 6). 

Fig. 6  Abandoned Caprolactam Plant in Dzerzhinsk

Abandoned caprolactam plant in Dzerzhinsk 

Caprolactam Plant was decommissioned in 2013 (including the northemost chlor-alkali production unit in the open) and the production site was transferred to "Oka-Polimer" Industrial Park JSC. Now, managers of the Industrial Park refuse to provide information on amounts of waste. 

Fig. 7 Sedimentation ponds of wastewater treatment facilities of Caprolactam Plant

Sedimentation ponds of wastewater treatment facilities of Caprolactam Plant  

In the period from 1952 to 1989, "Sintez" Plant in Dzerzhinsk produced Granozan pesticide (ethylmercury chloride). Its annual production capacity varied from 5 to 200 tons. In addition, in the period from 1985 to 1989, Granozan waste was buried at the facility site. Now (in 2015), Unit 111 building (the former Granozan production unit) is not fenced. Access restrictions to the Unit area (a source of mercury pollution) are limited by a warning sign and a written warning from the site lessor. Production buildings and local waste treatment facilities are dilapidated. Constructions of the former Granozan production and waste treatment facilities are contaminated by mercury. The site hosts 22 containers (with capacity of 1 m3 each) with mercury-containing waste coal (with mercury levels of 5%). The containers contain 20 tons of mercury-containing waste (up to 1 t of mercury). Waste storage conditions do not meet environmental requirements as the containers are leaking their contents. 

Other sources of mercury contamination in the area:

 - Volosyanikha channel near Dzerzhinsk - wastewater has been discharged to the channel since 1939 (bottom sediments contain mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT, dioxins, arsenic, HCB) - see Fig.  8. 

Fig. 8 Pollution of Volosyanikha channel in a suburb of Dzerzhinsk

Pollution of Volosyanikha channel in a suburb of Dzerzhinsk  

Fig. 9 - Three illegal pesticide dumps in water protection zone of the Oka river (2006-2008), including DDT and mercury.

Three illegal pesticide dumps in water protection zone of the Oka river (2006-2008), including DDT and mercury. 

Fig. 10 - In the course of a public inspection of Igumnovo SHW landfill (located between Nizhniy Novgorod and Dzerzhinsk), a major burial of mercury-containing bulbs and e-waste (computer hardware) was disclosed.

In the course of a public inspection of Igumnovo SHW landfill (located between Nizhniy Novgorod and Dzerzhinsk), a major burial of mercury-containing bulbs and e-waste (computer hardware) was disclosed. 

Fig. 11 The photos (September 2012 - 2014) show smoldering Igumnovo SHW landfill (the largest in the Federal District). As stipulated by a Presidential Order, the landfill had to be recultivated by 1 February, 2012. The environmental contamination still continues.

Smoldering Igumnovo SHW landfill 

In the framework of IPEN project, information on the main sources of mercury pollution in Povolzhskiy Federal District was collected. Information requests were sent to production facilities that earlier produced chlorine and Granozan. In the territory of Nizhegorodskaya oblast, bottom sediments, soils and landfill leachates were sampled. In addition, information was gathered on coal and oil fired boilers (to estimate mercury emissions), as well as information on annual numbers of burnt mercury-containing bulbs collected in the oblast and facilities that recycle them. 

Toxic waste should know its place - the project to address the problem of mercury-containing waste in Irkutsk

Mercury-containing fluorescent bulbs are broadly used by households; however, a system for their collection is only just now starting to be developed. 

In Irkutsk, Baikal Ecological Wave NGO is implementing its project Toxic waste should know its place! - dealing with the problem of mercury-containing waste. This project is a component of the national one called Sources of Mercury Pollution in Regions of the Russian Federation, which is coordinated by Eco-Accord. 

The project seeks to raise the awareness of Irkutsk residents on the hazardous health impacts of mercury, sources of mercury pollution and mercury-containing consumer goods. The project particularly focuses on issues of collection and recycling of energy efficient mercury-containing bulbs. In the framework of the project, actions have been implemented to collect burnt fluorescent bulbs. According to the NGO, in Irkutsk, only 2 outlets are available for local residents who may want to dispose of their burnt bulbs - the outlets are located in remote districts and the city residents do not use their services. The NGO organised mobile collection units that are very popular among the city dwellers. The mobile units will operate for three months, and a separate action will be organised on Baikal Day (in 2015, the Baikal Day will be celebrated on September 13). 

Fig. 12 The action to collect household mercury-containing bulbs

The action to collect household mercury-containing bulbs 

As participants of the Minsk seminar noted, similar mobile units for collection of burnt fluorescent bulbs have been organised in many other cities as well. In Petrozavodsk (the capital city of the Republic of Karelia), a mobile unit for collection of mercury-containing waste operated in 2013. Within a year, Petrozavodsk residents delivered about 4 thousand mercury-containing bulbs to the unit. In 2012, in Naberezhnye Chelny (the Republic of Tatarstan), 12 containers were installed for collection of mercury-containing fluorescent bulbs, thermometers and used batteries. In Ufa (the capital city of the Republic of Bashkortostan), a waste collection outlet was organised. In addition, an "Ecomobile" action in the Republic covers such cities as Uchaly, Neftekamsk and Tuymazy.

In September 2013, in Cheboksary (the capital city of the Republic of Chuvashia), 10 containers were installed for collection of burnt fluorescent lamps. In November 2013, the Administration of Kotelnicheskiy district of Kirovskaya oblast approved Procedures for Organising Collection of Burnt Mercury-containing Lamps at the Territory of Birtyaevsk Rural Community (Fig. 13). 

Fig, 13. A facility for collection of burnt mercury-containing lamps

A facility for collection of burnt mercury-containing lamps 

The Minsk seminar participants discussed requirements of the Minamata Convention in regards to mercury-containing products, including energy efficient fluorescent bulbs. They stressed that, according to the Convention, the products to be phased-out by 2020 include batteries; most switches and relays; CFL bulbs equal to or less than 30 watts containing more than 5 mg mercury per bulb (an unusually high amount); linear fluorescent bulbs under 60 watts and containing greater than 5 mg mercury and halophosphate lamps less than 40 watts and containing greater than 10 mg mercury; high pressure mercury vapour lamps; mercury in a variety of cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps; cosmetics including skin lightening products with mercury above 1 ppm except eye area cosmetics (because the treaty claims that no effective safe substitute alternatives are available); pesticides, biocides, and topic antiseptics; and non-electronic devices such as barometers, hygrometers, manometers, thermometers, and sphygmomanometers (to measure blood pressure). 

The products to be phased out by 2020 are listed in Annex A to the Convention. As the Annex A list has already been made public, NGOs can raise public awareness, demand mercury content disclosure and warning labels and highlight the damage caused by the mercury in these products in their current campaigns. Activities such as campaigns for boycotts on certain products as well as X-ray Fluorescence device (XRF) or laboratory testing of mercury-added products for media campaigns can build pressure on companies and national governments to develop policies to phase-out these products sooner than required under the mercury treaty. NGOs can also campaign for "no exemptions" if their governments shows signs of dragging out the phase-out process. 

Government agencies may be prepared to collaborate on these schemes and hold coordinated area-based collection days for mercury-added products in conjunction with NGO groups that can also promote mercury-free alternatives. This raises awareness of the hazards of mercury-added products in the community and can remove a significant amount of mercury from homes, schools and businesses. Attention should be paid to ensuring adequate safety measures for these activities in the event that a mercury-added product is broken during the collection. 

As presentations of NGOs in Minsk demonstrated, these types of collection days have thus far been very successful in many countries when dealing with e-waste and household hazardous waste (paints, solvents, acids, chlorinated compounds, etc.). In addition to the other benefits, these collection schemes remove mercury from the general waste stream where it may end up in a landfill or incinerator, which would disperse mercury into the environment. 

Projects to describe mercury-related situation in Armenia and Ukraine 

In the course of the Minsk seminar, two projects were presented that provided a detailed overview of mercury contamination in Armenia and Ukraine. The projects were implemented by two NGOs - Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment and MAMA-86. 

In the course of these projects, implementing NGOs analysed markets of mercury-containing products in Ukraine and Armenia, developed recommendations for improvement and harmonisation of national laws and regulations, and implemented information campaigns. A curricular lecture course on mercury contamination matters was developed and introduced into the learning process of the Chemistry Chair in M.P. Dragomanov National Pedagogic University. 

Based on results of the Minsk seminar, the participant approved a Statement on Ratification of the Minamata Convention. 

The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management - the most important issues for EECCA countries are:
  • Lead in paints
  • Chemicals in products
  • Toxic substances in e-waste

The final part the Minsk seminar was dedicated to issues of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) that will be discussed at the Fourth Session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management in Geneva (September 2015). 

The seminar participants actively discussed possibilities of meeting targets of elimination of lead in paints by 2020. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia participated in an IPEN project that studied lead levels in pains. In all countries, paint samples with high lead levels were identified (much higher than 90 ppm - the applicable limit in Canada and the USA), notwithstanding that pending legislation in Russia prohibits application of lead in paints for indoor paint coatings. In particular, in three quarters (16 samples) from the overall number of 21 samples in Russia, lead levels were found to exceed the proposed acceptable limit of 90 ppm. In more than two thirds of the samples (14 samples) lead levels exceeded 600 ppm. In the fifth part of all samples (4 samples) lead levels were dangerously high and exceeded 10,000 ppm. The highest lead level was found in a blue paint (52,900 ppm) - the level exceeded the proposed acceptable limit (90 ppm) by 588 times. 

The Minsk seminar participants discussed participation of NGOs from Eastern Europe and Caucasus countries in the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action, scheduled for October 25-31, 2015. NGOs of the region actively participated in previous action weeks, holding press-conferences and roundtables, and disseminating information in mass media outlets. The seminar participants reaffirmed their willingness to participate in a regional project on lead in paints and in the kick-start regional seminar for the project. 

An interesting discussion topic was associated with the problem of toxic chemicals in consumer goods. The seminar participants discussed the draft UNEP Program on Chemicals in Products that will be presented to the Fourth Session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management in September 2015. 

NGOs believe that knowledge and information on chemicals in products provide the framework for risk reduction and sound management of chemicals for the whole life cycle of products. It is necessary to ensure transparency of information on chemicals for the whole life cycle - the information should be accessible, understandable, adequate and should meet needs of all stakeholders. Representatives of NGOs are convinced that in order to replace chemicals of concern by safer and non-chemical alternatives, one should first of all know which goods contain such chemicals. 

In the course of discussions, a new database of potentially hazardous chemicals in consumer goods was presented - the database was developed by Belorussian Centre for Environmental Solutions NGO with the support of IPEN. This useful and user-friendly database contains information on such goods as toys and other goods for children, cosmetics, shoes and clothes, packaging, household chemicals, consumables for repair works, furniture, and electric and electronic items. The database is accessible at: 

According to the Minsk seminar participants, contemporary efforts and capacity for provision of information on chemicals of concern are insufficient. Information on chemicals in products should be sufficient to ensure full understanding of health and environmental risks associated with all life cycle stages of a product and to allow sound decision making on the matter. The "no data - no market access" principle should become the key to the whole chain of events leading to production of goods, including provision of information to consumers. Representatives of NGOs emphasised the need to develop a unified list of chemicals of concern, specifying their health and environmental impacts. It is necessary to account for the specific needs of developing countries and economies in transition that currently face intensive development of processes associated with production, use, processing and disposal of products and waste. 

NGOs believe that commercial data confidentiality considerations should not prevent provision of information on hazardous chemicals in products. The Program on Chemicals in Products and its Implementation Guidelines (developed in the framework of SAICM) should promote provision and availability of information on chemicals in products, with involvement of all stakeholders, including governments, businesses, intergovernmental and other international and non-governmental organisations, and civil society groups. 

Based on results of discussion, the seminar participants approved a Statement on the need of urgent actions to cease application of toxic substances in consumer goods. 

Another topic of discussions at the Minsk seminar was associated with the problem of toxic substances in e-waste. Projects on this matter were implemented in Belarus and Ukraine. All countries of the EECCA region were found to encounter similar problems:

  • legislative gaps do not allow implementation of the principle of extended manufacturer responsibility;
  • countries of the region lack e-waste collection systems (the ones well developed in the USA and in Western Europe);
  • criminal businesses use existing legislative loopholes to generate profits by extraction of precious metals from e-waste, disposing of residues to municipal landfills or illegal waste dumps.

Representatives of Belorussian NGOs said that they plan to deliver the used batteries they collected to Poland for processing. Russian NGOs presented information on "Megapoiresurs" JSC operating in the country - a specialised facility for processing of obsolete office equipment and e-waste. Since 2013, the company processes used batteries. So far, the company has collected and reprocessed about 7 tons of used cells and batteries, while its installed capacity allows it to process up to 17 thousand toms of these items annually (Fig. 14). 

Fig. 14. "Megapoiresurs" JSC specialises in reprocessing used cells and batteries

Megapoiresurs" JSC specialises in reprocessing used cells and batteries Megapoiresurs" JSC specialises in reprocessing used cells and batteries 2  

The Minsk seminar participants proposed to hold seminars on e-waste topics with the involvement of businesses - the seminars would allow identification of clear needs to address the problem and to develop joint action plans. 


Based on results of the seminar, the seminar participants developed the a list of priority problems and actions for IPEN Participating Organisations in the EECCA region. Successfully addressing the problems would allow unification of the Network and improve its efficiency. The list includes the following items:

  • Insufficiently high technical and expert capacity of the organisations;
  • Lack of independent certified laboratories for chemical analysis of specific substances;
  • Lack of information on low cost, quick analytical methods for determination of levels of toxic substances in products;
  • Lack of a space for exchange of information on problems and solutions;
  • Low numbers of NGOs that deal with chemical safety issues at the professional level;
  • Problems of mutual information exchange between NGOs in the region;
  • Problems with the language of communication in the region (the Russian language is not always perceived as a working language);
  • Lack of legal support for the network members - activists and organisations face hostile actions from business entities and authorities;
  • The need to implement large scale campaigns to switch attention from individual organisations to the whole Network;
  • The need to integrate chemical safety issues into curricular programs;
  • The need to enhance representation of the region at the international level;
  • Enhancement of representation of the Network to non-governmental and public authorities at the regional level;
  • Insufficient sustainability and continuity of projects - when funding ceases, web-sites and mail servers cease their operations, topics are closed;
  • Lack of a resource centre for capacity-building of NGOs and public entities;
  • Lack of information centres to communicate with people at the local level;
  • The need to conduct regular meetings of Participating Organisations of the Network;
  • The need to implement Network projects;
  • It is necessary to identify common grounds for organisations from different countries, e.g. in addressing problems of mercury pollution, sustainable agriculture, e-waste;
  • Importance of development of sub-regional cooperation between the countries, e.g. for identification of unauthorised waste transfers;
  • It is necessary to structure the process of communication and information exchange in the region and in the countries, to harmonise approaches to implementation of different campaigns and actions.
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The seminar was conducted in the framework of IPEN/Eco-Accord Centre project - Support of Ratification of Minamata Convention on Mercury in EECCA Region. We express our gratitude to Goldman Environmental Foundation, Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, OSCE Ukraine, the Small Grants Program of Belarus and the Centre of Environmental Solutions of Belarus for their financal and technical assistance for the project.