Much mercury from nothing?
On October 19, a special commission was established headed by Ivan Fomenko, the first deputy of the Kyiv City Administration, to examine the ecological situation at the Radykal Plant (Desniansky, former Vatutin district of Kyiv), UNIAN quotes Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko as saying during a routine session. According to him, this was done following the report in an Internet newspaper on October 18 that dozens of tons of mercury had spilled over the plant territory. The Kyiv mayor called this report an instance of ‘information terrorism.
Ihor Krol, spokesperson of the Ministry for Emergencies (ME), stated categorically that ‘this information has nothing to do with reality and is an ordinary canard. ‘Indeed, mercury is being taken out of the bankrupt Radykal enterprise by the Kharkiv salvage service. Yet, no emergencies have so far been noticed. The level of the inevitable evaporation and quite is rather insignificant and presents no danger, he emphasized.
The Days correspondents, who arrived at the place of the potential accident on the same day, heard the same opinion from Mykola Boyko, chief of the emergencies department of the Desniansky district. He stated that the first source of misinformation about the spillage of mercury was a New Channel television comment that ‘quicksilver is being shoveled at the plant. Yet, Mr. Boyko did not deny the very fact. ‘The point is that the journalists should have consulted with experts. This gathering of mercury is part of production technology, he said. ‘Over many years, the floor of the caustic soda shop has been soaked with mercury (the latter being a component of caustic soda — Author). Thus there is no other way to remove it than to gather and carry away all these construction vestiges, Mykola Frediuk, deputy chairman of the Desniansky district administration in charge of industrial matters, explained.
However, despite the assurances of safety by ME representatives and other governmental officials, it is completely clear that such a deposit of lethal metal next door has done more than a purely informational damage to the Ukrainian capitals image and to the nerves of Kyivans. It is planned to finish the gathering of liquid mercury, now being done by an ME Kharkiv salvage team, which won a special tender by November. Ten tons of mercury have been extracted as of October 20. ‘It will be packed into 42-kg cylinders and sent to the Nikitrtut Combine of the Donetsk oblast, Mr. Krol told ‘The Day.
No one knows how much lethal metal still remains in the smokestacks of the plant, which, incidentally, has been idle for about eight years. According to ME officials, ‘Mercury is being carried away daily in compliance with the plan. It is impossible to exactly identify the remaining mass... Theres so much talk that there are 120 tons of mercury at the plant. This is not really so. 120 tons include not only the liquid mercury but also what is in the concrete and in the building structures, Mr. Frediuk said in a less than convincing manner.
As he put it, practically all the liquid mercury ‘is now contained in pipelines and tanks... It presents no danger because it is not oxidized and can be stored in these special pipes for years, Mr. Frediuk says. Let us stress again that mercury has been stored ‘for years. ME experts claim that the liquid metal cannot while being exhumed. ‘Those, who are carrying out the necessary procedures are well-trained and well-equipped specialists, Mr. Boiko reiterates. But, what is very important, he did not exclude the possibility of a disaster in case of an act of terrorism.
But what causes a far greater anxiety among Desniansky district administrators, who have to dispose of the USSRs legacy (‘Soviet standards allowed building such enterprises within the city limits. Now its different, Mr. Frediuk said), is the next stage of work. ‘After the liquid mercury has been removed (which, incidentally, has already cost UAH 500,000), we will have to decide what to do with the enterprise structure, he added. What will hardly please Darnytsia residents is also the fact that ‘there is a likelihood of burying on the spot the mercury-permeated segments. Yet, according to Mr. Boiko, the hazardous evaporation of mercury does not exceed the maximum permissible limit even around the shop structure.
It is no secret that this assessment of the ‘maximum permissible limit is typical of not only the capital of Ukraine. Various sources claim that about 35 million of Ukrainians reside in high-risk manmade-disaster-prone areas. The population of Dniprodzerzhynsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kremenchuk, Kryvy Rig, etc. are under a daily threat of chemical and radiological contamination. And enterprises with clearly outdated equipment seem to have got used to the likely emergencies. According to Mr. Krol, Ukraine has almost 7000 facilities prone to manmade disasters. A part of them are situated within populated areas in close vicinity to residential neighborhoods.
October 22 Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Serhiy Kurikin confirmed to journalists at a press conference that the extracted mercury will not be buried on the territory of Kyivs Vatutin rayon reported earlier. At present the level of mercury vapors concentration at the plant exceeds the permitted concentration by thirty times.
‘The Day, No. 29, 23 October 2001