Environmental disaster looms in Ukraine unless urgent steps are taken – UN report

Environmental disaster looms in Ukraine unless urgent steps are taken – UN report

Immediate action is needed to avert an environmental disaster in western Ukraine where toxic materials from former mines could spread into the area and threaten the health of local communities, according to the report of a joint United Nations-European Union mission of experts.

The final report of the UN-EU mission to the Kalush area of Ukraine describes the situation there as “critical,” according to a press release issued this week by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which manages a joint environment unit with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

“A window of opportunity exists to prevent the existing situation from deteriorating into a disaster,” the press release notes, citing the mission’s report. “Immediate action should be taken to address and remedy the identified problems.”

The mission, conducted last month at the request of Ukrainian authorities, found there was a high probability that an open-cast mine could break through into the Sivka River and thus spread the dangerous organic pollutant hexachlorobenzene (HBC) into the local environment.

Mining in the Kalush area has left the ground unstable and prone to subsidence, with mine tailings dams at risk of bursting as a result of snowmelt and spring floods. Ground and surface water has become highly salinized and contaminated.

The mission members, accompanied by national experts, assessed the stability of the dams and the risks posed by subsidence, and it also conducted sampling at a nearby hazardous waste site to screen for threats to potential local communities.

In addition they assisted emergency management organizations in the region to identify risk reduction measures and other steps to minimize the impact of any environmental disaster on the local population.

The nine-member mission team included experts in emergency management, environmental issues, risk reduction, hydrogeology and tailings dams, and was conducted through the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) system and the European Commission’s Monitoring and Information Centre.