Toxic Smoke Covers Northern Armenian Town

An aerial view of Alaverdi after the malfunction

YEREVAN—A section of the pipeline carrying exhaust fumes at the Alaverdi Copper-Molybdenum Plant collapsed on Sunday, releasing toxic smoke over the town of Alverdi in northern Armenia, reported Shoddy construction is being blamed for the accident.

The fumes at the plant owned by the Armenian Copper Program, a subsidiary of the Vallex Group, are channeled into a giant smokestack and from there the smoke hovers over the town.

The Armenian Copper Program has plans to open a similar plant in Teghut. The Vallex Group president Valery Mejlumyan told reported in July, 2011 that the Teghut plans would produce 28,000 tons of copper ore annually.

The Teghut project has been opposed by local and Diaspora environmental protection groups.

Yet on February 28, the Vallex Group received a tax break from the Armenian government for the multimillion-dollar mining project in Teghut..

Vallex Group, a private firm, had asked the government to delay by three years collection of a 20 percent value-added tax (VAT) from 2.7 billion drams ($6.7 million) worth of imported industrial equipment which it plans to use for mining copper and uranium in the Teghut forest, reported RFE/RL at the time.

The government unanimously approved the request at a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian.

Economy Minister Tigran Davtian, who recommended the decision, said the tax concession is essential for the success of the controversial project that should result in 1,000 new jobs. Davtian said Vallex Group plans to invest $338 million in the project in the next few years. Equipment imports will make up more than one-third of this sum, he told fellow cabinet members.

“The import of the first batch of the equipment [worth 2.7 billion drams] to Armenia is already in progress,” added the minister.

The Teghut forest lies atop deposits containing an estimated 1.6 million tons of copper and about 100,000 tons of molybdenum. Their extraction would lead to the destruction of some 128,000 trees. Vallex Group says it will offset the damage by planting new trees and creating new jobs in the impoverished area.

Critics say, however, that the project would wreak further havoc on Armenia’s green areas that have already shrunk since the 1990s. They say it would also pollute air, water and land in the picturesque region.

Armenian environmental activists have for years been campaigning against the Teghut project with street protests and other actions. In January 2012, more than 200 of them marched to Teghut to demand a halt to ongoing preparations for the launch of open-pit mining operations there planned for 2014.

The government remains adamant in rejecting those demands, however. According to Davtian, the mining project is now being “actively” implemented.


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