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Larisa Paremuzyan

Vallex Fails to Fulfill Promises

Despite the coverage of environmental issues in the Armenian media, the demands of the people and the government towards industries have remained unchanged.

This is why the companies, whose production volume is increasing every year and whose operations are posing greater ecological threats, do nothing more than make a few promises about environmental conservation.

According to the three-year program laid out for 2005-2008 by Vallex, the company which owns the Alaverdi Copper Plant, 70-80% of the hazardous waste produced in Alaverdi by the company should have already been treated. This company had a similar program when the plant was reinstated, around ten years ago. However, Vallex has not implemented any environmental programs in the past ten years.

As for the three-year program, none of it has been implemented to this day. Recently, during a trip to the Teghut mine by the new Minister for Environmental Protection Aram Harutyunyan, Vallex Chief Director V. Mejlumyan said angrily, in reply to a reporter's question, that if the company failed to implement the planned environmental programs over the next year and a half, then they would be forced to shut down their operations at the Alaverdi Copper Plant. That means that the company would fire 636 employees and then, in its pursuit of huge profits, busy itself with the production of the ore and its sale.

But that is not all. The company has also mocked the people of Alaverdi. During the election campaign before the May 12 parliamentary elections, the Vallex campaign posters stuck on Alaverdi's electricity poles bore the slogan “Let's Care for the Environment”, while the huge billboard placed atop the former gym onZoravar Andranik streeturged the residents of Alaverdi to not just care for the environment, but also to respect the country. It is impossible to read these calls to environmental conservation coming from the company that has avoided investing in the environment for years and has plotted ecological destruction in the Lori provincial region with its exploitation of the mine in Teghut.

The Alaverdi Copper Plant has increased its production of black copper from 5,000 tons when it was first reinstated to 12,000 tons over the years, due to which the ecological situation in the city has worsened. According to official data, the content of sulfur dioxide in the air of Alaverdi has been 11.4 times the permitted level for the past two years. The company has promised to increase production in the near future, thus ignoring public opinion and neglecting the necessity for public awareness in the area of environmental conservation.

Even in the face of very minor demands, the company director, Valery Mejlumyan, who owns only 9.26% of the shares, threatened to shut the down the plant. Thus, the people of Alaverdi must either not work or do so at the expense of their health, only because this is in the best interests of Mejlumyan. In reality, Mejlumyan has no real intention of shutting down the plant. In a report by the Mining and Metallurgical Institute document assessing the ecological effects caused by the Teghut Mine Enrichment Plant, there was a proposal to set up a training site at the Alaverdi Copper Plant to prepare specialists for the Teghut plant. But the residents of Lori believe the threats to shut down the plant and do not understand that their fear and humility are like “manna from heaven” for Vallex. These announcements by the plant owners are like a cold shower for the workers at the plant and their family members.

Vallex F. M. Establishment, a company registered inLiechtenstein, owns 90.74% of shares in the Vallex Group, of which the Aleverdi Copper Plant is a part. This company is also owned by Valery Mejlumyan. Lately, the plant laborers have not been hiding their dissatisfaction with Mejlumyan and Vallex overall. The very high salaries of administrative staff and very low wages for laborers are also included in these complaints. Many of the laborers are angered by Mejlumyan's empty promises over the years to raise their wages.

The laborers have long lost their affection for the company owner. A testament to this are the contradicting statements in 2006 by the Armenian Copper Program (part of the Vallex group) and Aviaservice (part of Gagik Tsarukyan's Multi Group) regarding the underreporting the amount of gold supplied. There are workers who have witnessed this abuse of the company's assets but have kept silent. Today, they say that it does not matter who robs them – Valery Mejlumyan or Gagik Tsarukyan.

According to an assessment of the ecological effects of the Teghut Mine Enrichment Plant, the amount of money corresponding to the damage done is 2.07 billion drams. However, it is probably not a coincidence that there are no predictions about the effects on the health of the population in the section entitled “Assessment of Effects on the Environment and Predictions of Socio-Economic Consequences”. Moreover, the document stated that the climatic conditions in Teghut – high humidity (annual average 69%) and forest cover – may lead to minimal effects of mining on the atmosphere. But Valery Mejlumyan is not concerned with the organic dust released from open mines, nitrogen and carbon oxides, hydrocarbons, hazardous tailings stored in reservoirs, deforestation as well as explosions, all of which could, according to environmental experts, lead to mutations and the destruction of the forest's sensitive flora and fauna. The Ministries of Health and Environmental Protection are also silent about the effects of the Teghut Mine Enrichment Plant on the population in Teghut, Shnogh and other communities.

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