Tag Archives: Iraq toxic waste

Rivers of Crude Oil: the poisoned land of Iraq

A biological remediation pilot project seeking to enhance nature’s own ability to clear up oil spills in Iraq’s conflict-affected areas has been launched in Kirkuk, Iraq…This UNEP initiative seeks to harness naturally occurring soil bacteria as a powerful natural ally to decontaminate poisoned land.  Over three years ago in summer 2016, the residents of Qayyarah—a small town of around 25,000 people, some 60 km south of Mosul—were caught in the line of fire as so-called Islamic State fighters torched nineteen nearby oil wells. So thick were the clouds of smoke, that people could not distinguish day from night for weeks in what infamously came to be known as the “Daesh winter”.  Rivers of crude oil flowed through Qayyarah’s streets and into seasonal wadis as oil wells spewed tens of thousands of barrels of oil relentlessly for months. The specter of an even worse environmental catastrophe was heightened as the oil slick migrated to less than three kilometers from the Tigris River, Iraq’s water lifeline.

Following an epic battle to control the oil fires that took nearly a year, North Oil Company, which manages the oil fields of northern Iraq, is currently collecting an estimated 20,000 tonnes of remaining oil waste in Qayyarah into around a dozen large pits.  Progress, however, has been slow and pools of heavy viscous oil remain on the doorsteps of entire neighborhoods and households, who complain about the impacts of noxious fumes on their children’s health.

“In some places, the layer of heavy oil is two to three meters thick, and long stretches of wadi channels are now effectively tarmac roads on which cars can be driven,” observed Mohammed Dawood, head of Qayarrah oil refinery’s environmental unit. Furthermore, Environment Ministry officials expressed concern that exceptionally heavy rains and flash floods of the 2018/19 winter season washed out oil from the holding pits into the Tigris River.

While oil production restarted in Qayyarah immediately after the conflict ended in June 2017, reaching currently an estimated 40,000 barrels per day, little has been done to clean up the conflict’s toxic aftermath… The UN Environment Programme in collaboration with the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq delivered a four-day hands-on training workshop on remediation of oil spills by the use of bacteria  in September 2019. “By adding nutrients from manure, bulking agents like wood chips and water, we are simply creating the ideal conditions for bacteria to thrive and speeding up the natural process of breaking down the oil,”

Excerpts from  Microbes offer hope of cleaning up Iraq conflict’s pollution legacy, UNEP Press Release, Oct. 23, 2019

Nuclear and Toxic Waste-Iraq

Most of the Iraq’s vast deposits of radioactive materials are a legacy of the turbulent regime of former leader Saddam Hussein, and have built up over the last four decades. Other toxic materials can be found in the country’s graveyards of contaminated industrial equipment“The parliament has decided to study the situation again after other provinces [including Dhi Qar] rejected such decision,” said Yahya al-Nasiri, governor of the southern Dhi Qar province.

“The proposals suggest burying the waste outside the country or in the desert…Asked if there are other ways to dispose of the waste, he said “it could possibly be buried in the sea using special containers or be sent to countries willing to take it, in exchange for money.”

While Nasiri said other provinces have rejected a similar request, Dhi Qar’s provincial council voted against the Iraqi parliament’s proposal in early July 2015 to use some of the southern province’s land as a burial site for the radioactive pollutants coming from all other provinces of the country.  Dhi Qar’s health and environment committee head Abdulamir Salim at the time slammed the proposal and said it posed a “real threat to the health and security of the province’s citizens.”..

An official Iraqi study in 2010 found more than 40 sites across the country that were contaminated with high levels or radiation and dioxins.  Iraq “without doubt” suffers from these radioactive pollutants inherited from “continuous wars” starting in the 1980s Iraqi-Iran war to the Gulf War in 1990s till 2003, when the United States used highly advanced weapons – including depleted uranium – in its efforts to topple Hussein’s regime, the governor lamented….However, it is not only war-produced pollutants that harm people’s health in Iraq – in addition, there is a lack of quality controls imposed on imported goods.  Radioactive material is also “the result of imports of car parts from Japan to the province,” he added….Areas around Iraqi cities such as Najaf, Basra and Fallujah accounted for more than 25 percent of the contaminated sites, with the southern city of Basra – the frontline during Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf War – having 11 sites, according to the 2010 study.

The study, carried out by the environment, health and science ministries found that scrap metal yards in and around the capital Baghdad and Basra contain high levels of ionizing radiation, which is thought to come from depleted uranium used in munitions during the first Gulf war and since the 2003 invasion.  “The U.S. army unfortunately caused an increase in these radioactive material by using uranium and its advanced arms that use a lot of harmful radioactive material,” Nasiri said. “But the U.S. army did not help nor support our projects to get rid of these pollutants.”

Excerpts from Dina al-Shibeeb, Iraq studying new plan on where to bury radioactive waste, says official, Al Arabiya News, July 18, 2015

What Iraq and EU have in Common? Toxic Waste

The Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology on Thursday (December 20, 2012) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the European Union (EU) to build a $2.6 million landfill for dumping radioactive nuclear waste, according to a ministry statement. During a joint press conference with Iraqi Science and Technology Minister Abdul Karim al-Sammarae, the head of the EU Delegation to Iraq, Ambassador Jana Hybášková, said the memorandum will complete joint activities and programmes that began in 2008.

The grant allocates money to design and prepare a landfill and train Iraqi scientists in the field, she said. Al-Sammarae said the MoU is slated to take effect for a maximum of three years, during which all destroyed nuclear facilities are to be liquidate

EU to build $2.6 million radioactive waste landfill for Iraq, http://www.al-shorfa.com,  Dec, 21, 2012

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More than 40 sites across Iraq are contaminated with high levels or radiation and dioxins, with three decades of war and neglect having left environmental ruin in large parts of the country, an official Iraqi study has found.  Areas in and near Iraq’s largest towns and cities, including Najaf, Basra and ­Falluja, account for around 25% of the contaminated sites, which appear to coincide with communities that have seen increased rates of cancer and birth defects over the past five years. The joint study by the environment, health and science ministries found that scrap metal yards in and around Baghdad and Basra contain high levels of ionising radiation, which is thought to be a legacy of depleted uranium used in munitions during the first Gulf war and since the 2003 invasion.

The environment minister, Narmin Othman, said high levels of dioxins on agricultural lands in southern Iraq, in particular, were increasingly thought to be a key factor in a general decline in the health of people living in the poorest parts of the country.  “If we look at Basra, there are some heavily polluted areas there and there are many factors contributing to it,” ­she told the Guardian. “First, it has been a battlefield for two wars, the Gulf war and the Iran-Iraq war, where many kinds of bombs were used. Also, oil pipelines were bombed and most of the contamination settled in and around Basra. “The soil has ended up in people’s lungs and has been on food that people have eaten. Dioxins have been very high in those areas. All of this has caused systemic problems on a very large scale for both ecology and overall health.”…

Ten of those areas have been classified by Iraq’s nuclear decommissioning body as having high levels of radiation. They include the sites of three former nuclear reactors at the Tuwaitha facility – once the pride of Saddam ­Hussein’s regime on the south-eastern outskirts of Baghdad – as well as former research centres around the capital that were either bombed or dismantled between the two Gulf wars.

Bushra Ali Ahmed, director of the Radiation Protection Centre in Baghdad, said only 80% of Iraq had so far been surveyed. “We have focused so far on the sites that have been contaminated by the wars,” he said. “We have further plans to swab sites that have been destroyed by war.  “A big problem for us is when say a tank has been destroyed and then moved, we are finding a clear radiation trail. It takes a while to decontaminate these sites.”

Scrap sites remain a prime concern. Wastelands of rusting cars and war damage dot Baghdad and other cities between the capital and Basra, offering unchecked access to both children and scavengers.

Othman said Iraq’s environmental degradation is being intensified by an acute drought and water shortage across the country that has seen a 70% decrease in the volume of water flowing through the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.  “We can no longer in good conscience call ourselves the land between the rivers,” she said. “A lot of the water we are getting has first been used by Turkey and Syria for power generation. When it reaches us it is poor quality. That water which is used for agriculture is often contaminated. We are in the midst of an unmatched environmental disaster.”

Excerpts from Martin Chulov, Iraq littered with high levels of nuclear and dioxin contamination, study finds, Guardian, Jan. 22, 2010