Hetq has been informed by a source within the Akhtala Mining and Processing Plant that the recovery water system at the Tchotchkan tailings dump only operated for two months after being reopened.
Our source says that it only has been working periodically ever since. The Akhtala Plant was granted permission by the RA Ministry of Nature Protection to operate the tailings dam in March, 2011, on condition that a recovery water system also is installed.
Hetq received news of the non-operational water system on June 24. The next day a Hetq team visited the plant and the tailing dam.
Akhtala Mayor Haykaz Khachikyan said he had no knowledge of the situation since the system’s pump station is located on the border of the villages of Metz Ayroum and Tchotchkan.
From the vantage point of the Sourb Mariam Astvatzatzin Church in Akhtala, one can see liquids pouring out from the tailings dam pipes and flowing down the hills into the Akhtala River.
When asked, the mayor said he was aware of these outflows.
“They are waters from the circulatory system used in the enrichment process. Instead of being directed to the tailings dam they flow into the river,” Mayor Khachikyan said.
If the circulatory system is operational, the water squeezed from the tailings dam is supposed to collect in the pond and then pumped out to the plant itself for repeated use in the manufacturing process.
When Hetq visited the site, the circulatory system wasn’t working. Local villagers told us that the sound of the working pumps can be heard from a distance. We heard nothing.
What we did see was one of the tailings pipes spewing out tailing material from the plant into the dam.
It seems that the plant is busy extracting copper ore despite the non-operating circulatory water system.
We were more amazed to see that the entire area wasn’t properly cordoned off. It was accessible to grazing animals.
We were dumbstruck to see that plant workers were even growing beans, sunflowers and corm at the tailing dam.
Workers boasted about their luxurious and green garden smack dab in the midst of all those heavy metals.
“And they say that the tailings dam is dangerous. Do you see how great our crops are growing?” said one worker.
Evidently, plant management has failed to inform its employees about the dangers. But none of them were wearing any protective clothes anyway. So what’s the risk of ingesting some toxic beans or corn?
When we tried to approach the pumping station, the workers blocked the way.
So we called Lyova Vardanyan, the plant official in charge of the production unit. His answer was less than encouraging.
“The circulation system? I wasn’t aware it was off line,” he muttered, and then confessed that he didn’t even know about the tailings outflows into the river.
The Akhtala Plant is owned and operated by Metal Prince which in turn is owned by Madeline Tashjian, wife of jailed American-Armenian businessman Serop Der-Boghossian convicted on paedophile charges.