Czech experts discovered old DDT stocks in Armenia. Now, they want to help with solutions of old burden

30.11.2010 - Prague

Representatives of the Toxics and Waste Programme of the Arnika Association discovered DDT contamination in all old pesticide storage areas during a recent mission to Armenia.

The experts presented first results of analyses of samples taken during their mission to the areas of old pesticide storages in Armenia were represented by representatives of the Toxics and Waste Programme of the Arnika Association today. "Essentially in all places examined by us where pesticides are, or have been, stored, DDT contamination to various extent was found. In one case, even its old stocks in torn bags. However, the problem concerns not only DDT," commented a co-author of on the first analyses, Ing. Marek Šír from the Institute of Chemical Technology, one of their main conclusions. This is true in spite of the fact that DDT was already banned a long time ago. "This is bad news for our country, but, at the same time, we know better now what substances contaminate premises of old pesticide storages and disposal sites. We have tried to draw attention of both national and international institutions to this issue for a long time already," said Elena Manvelyan, the President of the organisation Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment (AWHHE). Now, this organisation will use the obtained data both for negotiations with authorities and for informing local citizens who often live in close proximity to former pesticide storages.

Within the framework of the project entitled "Scaling up Experience in Improvement of Chemical Safety to Contribute to Poverty Reduction in Rural Armenia," the Arnika Association helps a local non-governmental organisation with a plan for decontamination of old environmental burdens. In July, Armenia was visited by a six-member Czech team formed by young scientists from universities - specifically, from the Research Centre for Toxic Compounds in the Environment of the Masaryk University in Brno, the Institute of Chemical Technology in Prague, and environmentalists from the Arnika Association. They examined 4 places of old pesticide storages and one dumping site for wastes from metallurgical industry. The joint 18-months project of Arnika and AWHHE was supported from by funds from the EU,of Europe Aid, UNDP and foreign foundations.

"We want to help Armenia to get rid of old environmental burdens, on the basis of Czech experiences. We know that the first step is to map the extent of the problem. Whereas old environmental burdens are more or less mapped in the Czech Republic, and this is also thanks to the fact that laboratories are well equipped. In Armenia, it is known that hazardous pesticides are, or have been, stored in certain places. What is not known is which ones, and to which extent they contaminated the buildings, soil, and the other environmental components," emphasized the Press Agent of Arnika, Mgr. Zora Kasikova, the main difference between the situation in the Czech Republic and in Armenia. In order that any country, including Armenia, could be able to choose a suitable and financially feasible decontamination method, it is first necessary to estimate, among other things, also the amount of material which has to be decontaminated.

According to criteria used in the Czech Republic, all the 4 mapped pesticide storages would have to be decontaminated. Definitely fertilizers and pesticides used currently could not be stored in them additionally. "This is one of the first simple measures we will recommend to our authorities. Without the analyses organised by Arnika, we would not have sufficient data for it," described said Emma Anakhasian from the AWHHE, describing one of the practical outputs of the research.

"One of the most shocking findings was that one of the pesticide samples from the storage in Jrarat contained 50 % of DDT by volume. The estimated amount of this pesticide stored here is in the order of hundreds of kilograms. The pesticide is lying in torn bags in a completely destroyed building. Thus, it is readily scattered by wind and washed away by rain. The result of this is the massive contamination of the surrounding landscape," stated Ing. Zuzana Honzajkova from the Institute of Chemical Technology.

In the place where old pesticide stocks were dumped near Nubarashen, contamination by hazardous pesticides was discovered past the actual fenced area of the pesticide burial site. "It means that danger of food chain contamination exists here. The area is accessible also for grazing cattle," summarised said Ing. Marek Sir.  It is surprising that people living in the vicinity of the storages are not aware of the possible risk. "In the neighbourhood of the old pesticide storages, they grow vegetables, fish, raise cattle, and drink water from uncovered wells without fear. However, they did not have information about the presence of pesticides such as DDT and lindane until now. We will inform them, and we will ask state authorities for help with this," said Elena Manvelyan.

Until now, only a burial site containing about 500 tons of pesticides, located not far from Yerevan, was spoken about in Armenia. "The investigation organised by Arnika showed that contamination by the pesticides, such as DDT and other hazardous organochlorine pesticides, are persistent organic pollutants. This concerns more areas in Armenia," summarised the executive director of the Toxics and Waste Programme at the Arnika Association, and the coordinator of the Czech-Armenian project, RNDr. Jindřich Petrlík.

"In the next phase, we will examine the level of food chain contamination, and the pesticides spreading by air out of the areas of their storages. By the end of the project, we would like to be able to at least outline the possibilities of decontamination for the places contaminated with old pesticides. We will try to find help also from the Czech state institutions and we will look for the available technologies usable for solving the problem in Armenia. For this, cooperation with the international network IPEN is important for us. Both organisations are members of the network," specified Petrlík when speaking of the next steps of Arnika in the project.

Arnika has experience with solving a similar problem in Klatovy - Luby, where the NGO succeeded in pushing through the decontamination of buildings which were used as a pesticide storage and preparation facilities in the past. AWHHE members visited Klatovy on Monday, November 29 as a part of their study trip to the Czech Republic. In contrast to Armenia, pesticides were not longer stored in Luby.

Note: The joint project, entitled "Scaling up Experience in Improvement of Chemical Safety to Contribute to Poverty Reduction in Rural Armenia” was developed in the middle of 2009, and it was started in the end of the same year thanks to financial support from the European Commission.

Further information about project:


The project is funded by the European Union.

Brief description of sampling sites:

(from the Preliminary report of the field visit in Armenia in August 2010 conducted as part of the joint Czech-Armenian project "Scaling Up Experience in Improvement of Chemical Safety to Contribute to Poverty Reduction in Rural Armenia", Alice Dvorská, Ph.D.)

The sampling was conducted at five sites suspected to be POP hot-spots, one pesticide burial site site, three former pesticide storage sites and one dumpsite containing copper production waste. In or around all the pesticide storage buildings, people without personal protection equipment were witnessed.

Nubarashen (40°08´34´´N, 44°37´02´´E)

The pesticide burial site Nubarashen is located about 20 km far from Yerevan. It was established for the disposal of obsolete pesticides in 1982 or earlier and is owned by the city of Yerevan (Helps, 2010; Ritsema et al., 2006). It should contain 500 tonnes of pesticides, out of which cca 190 tonnes should be DDT, and 48 tonnes should be HCH (Helps, 2010). The site is guarded and further protected by a fence and warning signs (these measures are new, a destroyed fence and no guarding was reported previously; Petrlík, 2010). A drainage is built inside the fenced area, however, the water seems to flow out of the drainage behind the fence. The burial site is affected by landslides and other erosion processes which led to a migration of the burial site of more than ten meters in the past (AWHHE, 2005; Ritsema et al., 2006). This can be one of the reasons for the temporal and spatial (vertical and horizontal) fluctuations of DDT, DDE, DDD and HCH soil concentrations (some of them significantly exceeding Armenian legal standards) observed in the surroundigs of the burial site between 2003 and 2007 (Tadevosyan, 2010). This theory has to be proven as the number of point soil samples taken was low (AWHHE, 2010). Underground water sampling and a geophysical survey is planned to be conducted at Nubarashen by FAO or OSCE (AWHHE, 2010). Detailed information on the Nubarashen burial site can be found also in Helps (2010).

Livestock was reported to graze close to the burial site (AWHHE, 2010; Ritsema et al., 2006). A stream passing the burial site is a tributary to the river Getran which empties into the river Razdan (which flows through Yerevan). This stream runs through the closest settlement (summer houses partly occupied by refugees throughout the year) in a distance of cca 1 km from the burial site.  The village Mushavan  is in a distance of cca 2 km from the burial site, the 1500 villagers (AWHHE, 2005) who are all permanent residents. The major source of food of the Mushavan and summer house residents is the market, a minor portion of food is of private production (AWHHE, 2004). Water, fruit, vegetable and cow milk samples were taken by AWHHE in three settlements in close proximity of the burial site in 2004 and analysed on the content of DDT and HCH . The samples  did not exceed Armenian legal standards. Also breast milk samples were taken by AWHHE in two villages next to Nubarashen and for comparison also in other villages in the Ararat valley. Some breast milk samples exceeded the Armenian legal standards on DDT and HCH content for cow milk up to six times, however, the levels found in breast milk varied within the same range in all of the villages. Therefore, it was concluded that no direct linkage was found between the Nubarashen burial site and OCPs levels found in various matrices sampled in nearby villages (AWHHE, 2005). However, there are questions regarding the accuracy of these analytical data.

A nature reserve called Erebony was reported to be close the burial site (AWHHE, 2010) and birds of prey (ravens) were observed in the area during sampling in August 2010.

Jrarat (40°03´59´´N, 44°16´50´´E)

The formal governmental storage facility and distribution center for fertilizers and pesticides, Jrarat, (also sometimes referred to as Konstantin and Sisters LTD) is located cca 50 km from Yerevan. It consists of three buildings, out of which two are demolished. One of the demolished buildings still contains one roofed room, where canisters with methyl mercaptophos (a chemical agent to control insects which is toxic to humans and animals (The Free Dictionary, 2010) are stored (information provided by the owner). The middle part of the building contains rotten metal drums and spilled oils, and the last part destroyed bags full of pesticides. The second completely destroyed building containes huge amounts of destroyed bags with a consolidated substance of predominantly white colour and crystalline structure. Evidence of a small fire was observed there. Rubble and pieces of asbestos roofing can be found all around the two destroyed buildings (Ritsema et al., 2006) and the area is also characterized by very heavy smell. The third (biggest) building in cca 100 m distance from the demolished buildings is preserved and according to the owner used for the storage of currently used fertilisers and not specified „biopreparates“. This building is locked and the windows and roof are quite preserved. Close to the site, a railroad is located, which was formerly used for pesticide transport. An estimation of the amount of hazardous waste stored at the Jrarat site can be found in Ritsema et al., 2006.

The site is owned by the former director of the distribution center, who established large ponds for breeding fish for the local market in the area. The concrete fish ponds filled with groundwater obtained from cca 150 m deep wells (Ritsema et al., 2006) are in cca 200 m distance from the three storage buildings. A small muddy fish pond also filled with groundwater is located cca 50 m from the two destroyed buildings. According to the owner, the fish are fed with Dutch feed.

The closest residential buildings are just behind a concrete wall surrounding the area, the closest village is cca 2 km far. There is no livestock grazing in the areal. A fruit tree orchard is located near the demolished buildings. The fish farm workers can freely walk around the site and dogs are rooming around. Women cutting grass and herbs for consumption in the close vicinity of the storage sites were observed previously (Ritsema et al., 2006). The easy accessibility of the site was also confirmed by the theft of a passive air sampler installed there in September 2010. The wider surrounding of the Jrarat site is densely populated by storks. According to AWHHE, these birds have had problems with breeding in the last years, however, this information could not be confirmed.

Echmiadzin (39°56´38´´N, 44°33´12´´E)

The privately owned site is a farm with a former local distribution centre of pesticides. According to the owners, the vast majority of obsolete pesticides was already brought to a landfill (Ritsema et al., 2006). Two former obsolete pesticide storage rooms have a water-proof roof, closed windows, are locked and exhibited a moderately strong smell. They are part of a bigger hall. The first storage room was nearly empty, mostly empty packaging was found there. The floor of this room was covered by a pink powder and was swept recently. The second room was not swept, partly empty packaging and old petrol lifters was found there. In March 2010, Arnika members already visited this site and took one scratch-offs and sweepings sample in the second room. Significant concentrations (hundreds of mg per kg sample) of DDE and DDT were found (Šír, 2010). A sample of an aggregation found at the floor exhibited an elevated level of PCDD/Fs (62 ng PCDD/Fs-PCB TEQ kg-1; BDS, 2010). The ceiling of both rooms was covered by an evaporated white substance. The owner and members of his family seemed to enter the rooms occasionally. An estimation of the amount of hazardous waste stored at the Echmiadzin site can be found in Ritsema et al., 2006.

A residential house occupated by 2 adults and 2 adolescents is in the close vicinity of the storage rooms. A fish pond filled by groundwater is located cca 50 m far from the storage rooms and a vegetable bed is right next to them. The family provides itself with privately grown vegetables, fruits, fish, and eggs. Another residential building was observed behind a wall surrounding the area.

Masis (40°04´18´´N, 44°24´20´´E)

The privately owned storage facility is located in a former factory for processing, packing, and distribution of agricultural products. The site was also used for the storage and distribution of pesticides in the past. Pesticides were stored in three separate rooms which are part of a large hall (Ritsema et al., 2006). A guard stays at the site for 24 hours per day, and at least ten workers a day enter the area. The obsolete pesticides are not mixed with currently used ones as was stated by the workers, but we were not allowed to enter and check the other rooms of the hall.

The biggest room with obsolete pesticides has no roof and windows are broken, and it is closed by a metal gate locked by a padlock. It contains damaged drums, torn bags, and a thick layer of powders of various colours (white, blue, pink and others) covers the floor. The wall between the biggest pesticide storage room and the rest of the hall is partly destroyed. The two smaller storage rooms are locked, not destroyed and there is a thin layer powder on the floor. Empty packaging of currently used pesticides (see table 1) was found there and the rooms seemed to be entered and used occasionally. All the three pesticide storage rooms exhibited a strong smell. An estimation of the amount of hazardous waste stored at Masis can be found in Ritsema et al., 2006.

The guard´s house is located cca 100 m from the pesticide storage rooms, a residential house is located cca 50 m behind a concrete wall surrounding the area. Interestingly, the region around Masis was malarial in the past. We have no information, whether spraying of DDT was used as a measure preventing the spread of this disease.

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