There is a misunderstanding in relation to the activities of environmentalists within the context of mining, where it is wrongly claimed that environmentalists’’ efforts are only directed towards the protection of “rocks and bushes.” This skillfully corrupts the real objectives of environmentalism and artificially pits against each other the well-being of humans and the need for jobs. The right to well-being in a healthy environment is a human right that has a very specific social and economic scope. In addition to obstacles it creates for economic activities, an environment polluted with heavy metals is first of all a serious hazard in terms of public health. This is not only the problem of polluted communities because the goods produced in these areas can reach each and everyone of us through the food chain.
Unlike issues related to medical assistance and service, in this case, public authorities have both the legislative and administrative means to prevent activities that contaminate the environment with persistent pollutants. The number one cause of this in Armenia is irresponsible mining. Academic researches have shown that due to poor management of mining wastes, many communities in Armenia have severe health issues, especially among children. Heavy metals are to blame for the sharp increase in oncological illnesses. According to academic research, the rate of malignant tumors in Armenia grew 1.8 times in 2014 in comparison to the indicators in 1990. Malignant tumors are the second biggest cause of mortality in the country. Armenia ranks first in the world with cancer deaths (http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/cause-of-death/all-cancers/by-country/). Although industry representatives dispute these numbers and do not relate mining pollution to cancer, they do not point out to any kind of research, on which they base their conclusions. It should also be noted that heavy-metal pollution causes not only oncological but also mental and other types of illnesses particularly among young children.
Despite the legal requirement, the Ministry of Health of Armenia has not been adequately involved in the environmental impact assessment procedure as a state authority responsible for public health issues. The level of unawareness of this state agency about their responsibilities in relation to environmental issues is attested by our official communication with them.
The correspondence we have held with different health ministers over the years proves unambiguously that relevant authorities either do not possess or do not wish to provide information regarding the influence of mining on public health. The ministry believes that it is up to the citizen and not the public health authorities to prove that the damage to people’s health is caused by the pollution of mining wastes and only in this case citizens would be entitled to compensations. This practically makes it an impossible task for community residents. In response to official written inquiries, officials of the ministry of health has said that in order to increase the efficiency of inspections, starting from 2013 they will move on to the system of inspections based on risks, which will boost the efficiency of inspections while focusing on more potentially hazardous objects, including mining facilities. With all this being said, there has been no impact assessment of mining on public health conducted by authorities, the health ministry is in no way involved either in the initial state of health risks assessments nor later during the assessment of the damages to public health.
At the same time, research conducted by various academic institutions and non-governmental organizations have rendered factual evidence that shows a direct causal link between the high rates of different illnesses, including cancer registered in Armenia and the irresponsible mining operations in the country. Such researches have been done by the School of Public Health of the American University of Armenia, which present the links between public health issues and the fact of soil in mining communities being polluted with arsenic and lead (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0375674217303497).
One of current primary directions of EcoRight’s activities is the issue of comprehensive study of the impact of mining on public health as well as introducing the culture of responsible mining in the country. A complete assessment based on various researches will enable us to initiate legal procedures aimed at the protection of rights of individual citizens and the public and demand compensation for the damages caused to people’s lives and health.