Over 13 000 tons of dangerous lindane lay in the Small depot in the former chemical factory OHIS at the outskirts of Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. But there are four times more (over 50 000 tons) in the Big depot and still unknown quantities of the toxic chemical, presumably in the ranges of thousands of tons, lay in two other depots, one in the former factory’s yard and the other at Pelenica picnic spot near Drachevo.
This carcinogenic insecticide is environmental hazard that is posing a constant threat to the city of Skopje. The lindane deposits are inappropriately stored, only covered with soil, without any guarantees that they lay in concrete pools. It was proven that the lindane is present in the air in the center of Skopje and as far as Gjorche Petrov, at the other end of the city, and most probably it is present in the soil and the underground waters in the wider area around the OHIS factory.
The cleanup of this dangerous chemical’s stockpiles has been a burning issue for the general public and the expert circles for decades. Almost two years ago the concrete activities that during this spring will lead to solving the problem with the Small depot began. According to the announcements by the Ministry of Environment, Skopje will free itself from part of the carcinogenic insecticide and during the first 6 to 9 months, a part of the stockpiled quantity will be removed i.e. around 700 tons of the soil contaminated with Hexachlorocyclohexane – HCH (lindane being one isomer of this chemical) and pure HCH, as well.
The Ministry of Environment issued the following statement:
We are working on securing all approvals and permits for work on the location, including the Plan for Remediation. The cleanup of the Small landfill should start by the end of this month.
It stresses it is of key importance that after solving the problem with the Small depot, to continue the cleanup of the lindane in the Big depot until the total evacuation of the HCH stockpiles in OHIS. The procedures would cost around €50 million. For this purpose, a special multi-partner Fund for the Environment was established, which will be administered by UNOPS. Also there are additional assets from the Norwegian Government and planned assets from the IPA 3 program.
The cleanup of the Small depot will be performed by the Greek company Polyeco, which was selected at international tender. The selection of the company lingered for almost a year, as the first announcements from the ministry were that the cleanup would have started in March last year and that it would have been completed this year.
The Polyeco company will be obliged to clean the lindane and to treat it outside of the country. According to Prof. Jane Bogdanov of the Chemistry Institute, OHIS’ small landfill, apart from lindane, which is a gama isomer of hexachlorocyclohexane, there are other chemicals as well especially other hexachlorocyclohexane isomers that were by-products during the industrial production of lindane.
In the process of removal of dangerous chemicals the greatest risk is the air pollution. But this will be monitored and followed in order for any adverse consequences to the environment and the people’s health to be avoided. Large quantities have to be discharged before there are negative consequences and danger to people’s health. Generally, the problem with the lindane and other organochlorine pesticides is that they accumulate in the living environment. But the lindane, compared to other insecticides and pesticides, is more likely to degrade. Still, if the whole procedure is performed in accordance with planned regulations, this won’t pose any dangers to the population, stressed Bogdanov.
The lindane is a hallogenic organic compound like its by-products and there are special procedures for its disposal. The waste in the Small depotl will have to be collected in special containers and will be transported to an incinerator for dangerous chemical waste in France. In 2009, the production of lindane and its use in agriculture was banned according to the Stockholm Convention of Persistent Organic Pollutants. This insecticide has a negative effect on the nervous system, the liver and the kidneys and can be cancerous. Still, as Bogdanov stresses, it depends on the degree of exposure and the concentrations.
Adnan Kjahil, the former Chief engineer of OHISr and former member of a government Working Group for the Disposal of the Lindane stresses that the insecticide in any of the four depots wasn’t properly stored and is left to decay.
At the time when we were examining the exposure of the lindane’s influence on the city of Skopje and its citizens we came to the conclusion that particles of the chemical can be located in the city’s center and even as far as Gjorche Petrov. The situation is the same with underground waters and I believe its influence is felt in the municipalities of Aerodrom and Kisela Voda, stressed Kjahil.
He said that for the cleansing of the lindane additional financial assets must be urgently secured and that the procedure must be expanded to other landfills. According to his calculations, this effort would cost up to 200 million EUR.