Working with the “enemy”

I see the “us” and “them” mentality all too often especially when pollution is involved.  Take legacy pollution for example. Legacy pollution refers to what is left behind after the source of the contamination – say a polluting factory – is shut down.  What usually follows is years of bickering, sometimes involving lawsuits, as all parties involved fight over who is responsible for the cleanup. As a result, often nothing is done and the community’s residents continued to be poisoned.

That is why at Blacksmith, right from the start, we’ve subscribed to the notion of working together. Viewing industry and corporate representatives as the enemy discounts the complicated reality of many polluted sites. Rather than pointing fingers, we should join hands and heads to find a solution.

When we were criticized by an industry group of leather manufacturers for listing tannery operations as one of the world’s worst pollution problems, we responded to them and began a conversation about how we could all help solve the problem together.

Recently, we worked with the ICCA – the International Council of Chemical Associations (a chemical industry group) – on a project at an abandoned chemical factory in Gorlovka, Urkaine.  We brought to the table our expertise in pollution cleanup strategy along with a strong coalition of  international and local stakeholders, which included former employees of the chemical plant.  The ICCA contributed their crucial understanding of the chemicals involved and how to deal with them. As a result, working together, we anticipate that we will be able to remove the toxins by September 2013. This is indeed progress for Gorlovka, after languishing for decades on the brink of disaster.

Read more about how we worked with the ICCA on the Gorlovka cleanup below, or download the entire pdf here.

This abandoned, former state-owned and operated chemical plant in Gorlovka, Ukraine presented a major health threat to the town’s 200,000 residents. A cocktail of chemicals at the site – mainly mononitro chlorobenzene (MNCB) and some 30 tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT) were contaminating ground water and creating risk for potential explosion. Clearly, urgent remediation was required.

As a first step, Blacksmith introduced the ICCA team to the draft remediation and safety plan, setting the wheels in motion for the two organizations to pay their first joint visit to the Gorlovka plant in November 2011. The visit was an important step, enabling partners to get a better understanding of the situation on-site and to meet with local contractors and sub-contractors specializing in the remediation of TNT. ICCA experts summarized their findings on the Gorlovka site in a detailed report providing numerous recommendations on safety, cleaning of TNT-contaminated equipment and removal of a submersed TNT tank. They also provided feedback for revision of the draft remediation plan.

With the Ukrainian government tackling the MNCB problem, and together with local experts, Blacksmith will conduct the clean-up which anticipates removal of the TNT by September 2013. Funding permitting, Blacksmith will evaluate the need for further remediation of contaminated soil and groundwater at the site.

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