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3 countries at risk if Kiev shelling leads to Gorlovka chemical leaks – experts

Published time: August 12, 2014 17:23
Employees of Ukrainian Emergency Ministry carry a barrel containing highly toxic waste during the removal of waste containers from the former Soviet military chemical plant in Gorlovka, an industrial city in the Donetsk region. (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

Employees of Ukrainian Emergency Ministry carry a barrel containing highly toxic waste during the removal of waste containers from the former Soviet military chemical plant in Gorlovka, an industrial city in the Donetsk region. (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

Millions of people will be affected if shelling of the village of Gorlovka by the Ukrainian army leads to leaks at local chemical plants, experts warn, adding that the toxic clouds are also capable of spreading around the world.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s largest chemical plant, Stirol, made headlines on Monday after releasing a video appeal, in which he said that “irresponsible actions” by the military, who are fighting the anti-Kiev rebels in the area, may cause a massive ecological disaster.

But there’s another large chemical facility in Gorlovka, which is likely to drastically increase the scale of the catastrophe if its hit by Ukrainian shells, Viktoria Polyakova, chairman of the Ukrainian ecological NGO Deko-Vita, told RT’s Russian service.

The removal of hazardous materials from the Gorlovka Sate Chemical Plant, which is situated just a couple of kilometers away from the Stirol facilities, has been halted for a long time now due to military action, she said.

According to Polyakova, the Gorlovka Sate Chemical Plant was in disastrous condition even before the fighting broke in the Donetsk Region this spring.

The working lifespan of the protective structures at the plant has expired long ago and the slightest damage will result in the release of toxic substances from the storages, she said.

“There are a lot of dangerous substances there: TNT and sulfates, totaling around 300,000 tons, which are lying around in the open air. There are also 11,600 types of different poisonous and highly dangerous substances in the repository and they pollute the soil. The service life of these storages expired back in 1998,” the ecologists said.

A stop sign is seen outside the STIROL chemical plant in the town of Gorlovka in the Donetsk region (Reuters / Valery Belokryl)

Millions of people will feel the impact in case of leaks from the Gorlovka Sate Chemical Plant, Polyakova said.

“It’ll affect not only the whole of Ukraine, but also Russia and Belarus. This will be a large-scale disaster. Hazardous substances will inevitably get into the rivers, then the Sea of Azov and from there to the Black Sea,” she said.

“The rapid spreading of chemicals in hot weather would cause outbreaks of infectious diseases; lead to exacerbation in cancer patients; result in damage to the gastrointestinal tract and mental state of those, who reside in the affected areas,” she said.

However, the chemicals stored at Stirol plan are even more dangerous, spokesman Pavel Brykov said in his YouTube video.

The shelling by Ukrainian army may cause a toxic leak of mono nitrochlorobenzene, also known as “blood poison.”

If this lethal substance enters the human body it violates the blood formula and destroys neural axis, resulting in death.

Even one milligram of “blood poison” is enough to cause a lethal effect if it finds its way into the system.

Ukrainian military Grad multiple rocket launchers are parked at a Ukrainian military position some 20km south of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine (AFP Photo / Dominique Faget)

The minimum impact area of a possible disaster at the Stirol plant would be at least 300 kilometers, Brykov said.

UN chemical safety expert and Moscow State University professor Valery Petrosyan said that the possible disaster may pose a threat even for territories outside Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

The toxic clouds “can make round-the-world trips until the point until they encounter a rain or snow cloud. After this happens, they fall on the ground or into the water in the form of snow or water, respectively,” Petrosyan said.

The risk of chemical leaks is high in Gorlovka, as the Ukrainian troops are using multiple-rocket launchers, such as Grad and Uragan, which are deadly but lack precision.

The government began its military operation in the southeast of Ukraine in mid-April after the people in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions refused to obey the coup-imposed authorities in Kiev and demanded autonomy from the central government.

According to UN data, the ongoing fighting between the sides has already led to more than 1,300 deaths, among both civilians and troops, and over 4,000 others being wounded.

At the same time, 740,000 Ukrainian refugees have fled to Russia, with another 118,000 people have being internally displaced.

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