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Friday, 28 March 2014

UNIDO project neutralizes explosive and toxic substances to avert potential chemical disaster in Ukraine

An abandoned chemical and explosives production facility in the city of Horlivka in the Donetsk region of Ukraine is no longer a significant and immediate threat to the health of the local population or the environment, thanks to a project implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

In the crumbling buildings at the site in Horlivka, huge quantities of toxic chemicals had been left improperly stored. They included thousands of tons of mononitrochlorobenzene (MNCB), a very dangerous toxin, easily absorbed by the human body through ingestion, dust inhalation or skin contact. The site also housed 30 tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT), a yellow-coloured solid that is sometimes used as a reagent in chemical synthesis, but is best known as a useful explosive material with convenient handling properties.

The TNT had been left in machinery and pipes and in flooded underground tanks. Over time, the TNT-contaminated water had begun leaking into the soil and groundwater.  The situation threatened the local population with the effects of TNT exposure which, in the long-term, can cause anemia and abnormal liver functions, and can possibly damage the immune system and adversely affect male fertility. The TNT’s explosive properties also posed a risk of massive detonation and the subsequent dispersal of the MNCB and other highly toxic substances, mainly acids, used in TNT and MNCB production, over a large area.

In response to the danger, the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine approached UNIDO for assistance. The project, implemented in cooperation with the European Commission, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Blacksmith Institute, aimed to remove and neutralize the TNT.

“We needed to work swiftly and urgently to prevent any further toxic pollution and possible human health implications,” said Jerome Stucki of UNIDO’s Water Management Unit. “To implement the project, which had a total cost of around EUR 400,000, UNIDO contracted the Blacksmith Institute, an international non-profit organization dedicated to solving pollution problems in low and middle-income countries, where human health is at risk.”

Watch Opens external link in new windowvideo produced by Blacksmith Institute

Over the course of the last two years, a team of experts worked to dismantle and clean the TNT production equipment and underground storage tanks. TNT remediation started with the dismantling of the remaining equipment. TNT was extracted and stored in plastic drums, while acids used in the production process were stabilized. In a second phase, two large underground storage tanks containing TNT were excavated and dismantled. Over 48 tons of mixed TNT, dinitrotoluene (DNT), acid and other related poisonous waste, were safely extracted and properly stored.

“In order to complete the project, we first had to make sure the site itself was properly secured, necessary access roads built, and power and water supply installed. Due to the dangerous nature of TNT, a comprehensive safety management system was developed and, last year, we organized training courses in explosive safety for local project personnel,” added Stucki.

He went on to explain that, once the revised remediation plan was completed, the Blacksmith Institute reviewed the plan to ensure it met the organization’s health and environmental safety standards.

Ultimately, following advice from Blacksmith’s technical experts, the project stakeholders agreed that incineration was a safe and appropriate method of destruction, and approved both on-site incineration of lower TNT concentration material and off-site incineration at a high-quality incineration facility of the most concentrated TNT.

While the source of TNT pollution has been successfully eliminated, the site’s soil and groundwater still remain polluted. An environmental assessment of the TNT production zone was conducted in February, and laboratory results will determine the remaining contamination level.

The Horlivka project is a daughter project of UNIDO’s “Global identification and evaluation of polluted sites” project supported by the EU and worth a total of EUR 580,000. It was executed by the Blacksmith Institute. Under the project, more than 1,000 sites were covered in 46 countries, 763 contaminated sites being identified as contaminated and included in a dedicated database.

Posted March 2014

For more information on the project, please contact:

Jerome STUCKI
UNIDO Water Management Unit
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