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Caucasus decontamination project completed

In late 2016, Witteveen+Bos completed a decontamination project in the Caucasus region of Georgia, where mining activity has resulted in large deposits of arsenic. The project, which involved several partners, has done much to mitigate environmental and public health problems in the region.

During the Soviet period, the Caucasus region was the centre of a large-scale minerals industry. Ores with high concentrations of arsenic were mined and processed here. There were large deposits of mining waste and little was done to prevent the toxic substance leaching into soil and groundwater. After Georgia regained its independence in 1991, mining was discontinued but the processing facilities and sites were not treated or sealed off effectively. Arsenic could still be spread by the wind and in water.

In partnership with the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN), Witteveen+Bos produced decontamination plans for seven locations with high concentrations of arsenic in the soil or in former processing facilities. The intention was to reduce contamination to an acceptable level, whereupon these sites can be used for new industrial activities. At four locations, the plans were implemented by Biosoil International, working under our supervision. The work included constructing new, safe landfill sites to contain the toxic waste resulting from the demolition of contaminated buildings and the removal of topsoil. The project was organised by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency as part of the Eastern Europe Environmental Cooperation Programme. It was co-financed by the Georgian Ministry of Environmental and Natural Resources Protection.

Particular attention was devoted to upgrading an existing bunker silo which is used to isolate heavily contaminated waste. Because the silo is located on the outer curve of a river, the measures can only be temporary in nature. Witteveen+Bos held a brainstorming session at which experts in various disciplines suggested more permanent solutions. Their ideas and other recommendations with regard to the arsenic problem in the region were communicated to the various stakeholders. The Georgian government has indicated that the proposals form a strong basis for funding applications.

+ stef.carelsen@witteveenbos.com