Economy 13:35 01/02/2024 Armenia

Environmentalist deplores ZCMC's failure to create protective forest belts

The political force that came to power in Armenia after the 2018 "revolution" managed to get hold of 25% of the Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC) shares.

Afterwards, the Armenian government officials and their leader assured that the ZCMC, Armenia’s largest taxpayer, would have different working relations in observance of environmental norms in the mining sector. spoke with Vladik Martirosyan, chairman of the Kapan-based Khustup Environmental NGO, about the outstanding environmental issues in Syunik Province, where the mining giant is located, and the ongoing efforts to resolve them.

"The recultivation of tailings dumps and afforestation of waste dumps remain key issues. It’s about landscapes full of waste rocks, they are already getting into the gorges and distorting them,” Martirosyan said.

“It’s necessary to restore the landscape, to afforest and green the areas where mine waste rocks are no longer deposited. All this can be done, but no efforts are made to the end.  On the other hand, the water discharged into the Artsvanik tailings dump comes from flotation plants, where a significant amount of chemicals is used. All this gets into the tailings dump. And in order to prevent this dangerous odor from spreading to the nearby villages, it is necessary to create protective forest belts around the tailing dump. I have repeatedly made such proposals," he stated.

"It would not cause any problems for the Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Combine, especially since the combine already has its own nurseries and grows enough planting material for itself. They can provide protective forest belts, but I don't know why they would not do it. I established the ZCMC nurseries when in my time after I convinced the director that the combine needed them.

“I do not understand why no active efforts are made in this direction. The protective forest plantations will have a positive impact, they will prevent dust from being blown around by winds. When the water of the tailings dump is soaked and dry rocks remain, dust rises. It is impossible to immediately recultivate a tailings dump that has just dried up, as there is still silt underneath. That’s why protective forest belts are absolutely necessary. When the tailing dump dries out well, a 70-centimeter layer of earth is poured over these areas, dust emissions from the tailing dump stop, and the unpleasant odor does not spread. Before recultivation, it’s crucial to ensure that these protective forest belts are in place," the environmentalist remarked.

In response to the question why such programs were not implemented during his time at the ZCMC, Vladik Martirosyan noted: "I was sent to retire two years after the creation of the nurseries, when we just started sowing seeds. I retired before the seedlings grew. The issue of afforestation of wastelands for landscape restoration remains a priority. On the road to Meghri the waste rock storage sites are overflowing, the rocks are already almost by the road itself. If there are no plans to use them any longer, let us plant forests there, landscape and beautify the environment. The afforestation and greening will help the landscape recover. The waste rock dump contains not only rocks, there is also soil and subsoil. It is possible to afforest this area without bringing additional soil, it’s all absolutely possible.”

“And a significant part of the Artsvanik tailings dump, starting from the territory of the Syunik settlement, has been completely recultivated and covered with earth, it poses no risks anymore," he added.

When asked what steps have been taken to mitigate the negative impact on the environment as a result of the ZCMC mining operations, Martirosyan highlighted that mining always has environmental impacts.

“But some changes have been made in recent years. The tailings pipeline, which consisted of two pipes, caused big problems in case of an accident, it was difficult to direct the flow from the damaged pipe to the other one. Today, a third line has been built, which automatically connects to the pipeline in case of accidents,” he noted.

“In addition, pits for tailings storage have been created at hazardous sites to prevent contaminated water leaking from the damaged pipeline from flowing into adjacent rivers. The Voghji River has not been polluted for a long time and its water is clean. Similar storage facilities have been created in the Gehi and Norashen Rivers, which are tributaries of Voghji, preventing the tailings runoff from flowing into the rivers in case of accidents,” the environmentalist added.

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