Armenian Women’s Group Sheds Light on Unseen Toxic Reality
March 27, 2012 | No Comments
The Ararat Valley in western Armenia is a sunny, verdant basin with a hidden dark side. As the country’s major food producing region, pesticide use in this valley has left a dangerous legacy of environmental pollution and health risks to local and distant communities.
The contamination is largely attributed to the well-known and controversial pesticide, DDT, which was heavily used in Armenia in the 1950s and 1960s. High concentrations of the chemical can contribute to liver damage and temporary impairment of the nervous system. Studies also suggest the pesticide may be linked to diabetes, reproductive toxicity (premature births and lower birthrates), and cancer (U.S. EPA).
What’s more, the toxin has a long half-life, meaning it survives for decades in the environment and in the fatty tissues of organisms. So, despite the DDT ban in Armenia in 1970 by the former USSR, the pesticide’s dangerous effects continue to threaten the country’s population.
Most immediately, local farming populations are exposed to the pollutant through their water, crops, and livestock. Global Greengrants Fund grantee Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment (AWHHE) investigates environmental pollution in the country and raises public awareness about its presence and harmful impacts. The organization conducted a study on DDT concentrations in the breast milk of women in the Ararat Valley and found traces of the toxic chemical in every single mother. Considering that elevated concentrations of the toxin contribute to childhood disease and can cause damage to the developing brain, these are formidable findings for new generations of local Armenians.
“This is a Bomb, Immediately Next to Yerevan”
The dangers of DDT are also felt hundreds of miles away, in the capital city of Yerevan. In 1982 a disposal site for expired DDT and other pesticides was established just outside the city limits. Since then, little has been done to prevent the toxic waste from seeping into the soil, and no measures were in place to prevent public entry into the site.
With funding from Global Greengrants Fund, under the recommendation of Pesticide Action Network, AWHHE completed a study of the ground soil around the dumping site in 2005. Incredibly, they found the concentration of DDT and other chemical pesticides to “exceed the marginal permissible amount by several hundred times” and that those levels have increased in recent years, according to the report published by the organization.
The proximity of Yerevan’s population to the toxic waste site also raises major concerns about its future. The site is located on a hillside just 800 meters from residential developments, and there have already been several landslides. Meanwhile, the high contamination levels in the soil threaten to poison the city’s drinking water. Karine Yesayan, with the Armenian Ministry of Agriculture, sums up the situation with ominous simplicity: “In a word, this is dangerous, this is a bomb, immediately next to Yerevan”.
While the situation is daunting, AWHHE continues to uncover the depths of pesticide contamination and fight for a ‘toxic-free future’. Founded in 1999, the women’s organization is committed to redressing environmental pollution in Armenia while also achieving three of the Millenium Development Goals: 1) Ending poverty and hunger; 3) Promoting gender equality; and 7) Supporting environmental sustainability.
Under the direction of our Global Advisor, Pesticide Action Network, Global Greengrants Fund has given AWHHE four grants since 2001, empowering the organization to move closer towards those goals. More specifically, funds have been used to raise public and political awareness on environmental pollution, conduct studies on pesticide contamination levels, and participate in regional discussions to share information and strategies.
Written by Hilary Byerly