Poisoned children from the Kazakhstani village of Berezovka are diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy. Doctors say the likely cause of poisoning is hydrocarbons and their fumes.
In March 2018, Albina Iskakova and Alina Kusmangaliyeva of Berezovka, Kazakhstan were examined at the Semashko Children’s Center for Diagnosis and Treatment, one of the most well-known and respected children’s hospitals in Moscow, Russia. The girls underwent comprehensive medical consultations and diagnostic procedures in an effort to understand the cause of medical symptoms they have experienced since they became ill on November 28, 2014 following a release of toxic fumes from the Karachaganak Oil and Gas Condensate Field, located five kilometers from their home village. Both girls were diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused by chemical poisoning (code G92 in the international classification of diseases). The doctor who saw them indicated that the disease was likely caused by exposure to hydrocarbons and their fumes (code X46).
The doctors of the Semashko Center prescribed a five-year treatment plan that includes courses of expensive drugs and ongoing monitoring by specialists. Without proper treatment, toxic encephalopathy can lead to serious neurological disorders and partial or total disability.
The doctors’ diagnosis provides documented evidence that the Berezovka children suffer from toxic poisoning by hydrocarbons, the source of which, likely, is the Karachaganak Oil and Gas Condensate Field, operated by the Karachaganak Petroleum Operating BV (KPO) consortium, which includes the world’s largest oil companies: US Chevron, Dutch Shell, Italian ENI, Russian Lukoil, and Kazakhstan’s KazMunayGaz.
Medical diagnostics of the children and their trip to Moscow were funded via a crowdfunding campaign, Children of Berezovka: It’s Time to Help! The cost of the diagnostics of the two children in Moscow cost a total of $1700, less than the average monthly salary of a KPO employee, but an impossible sum for the parents.
Alina and Albina were among 25 Berezovka children who were subjected to severe toxic poisoning on November 28, 2014. Despite the children’s ongoing symptoms such as convulsions, headache, blood pressure surges, and loss of consciousness, for over 3 years the Kazakhstan state-owned hospitals have not provided a proper diagnosis or prescribed correct treatment for these children. Postponing the diagnosis only worsened the children’s health conditions. Neither KPO nor the Kazakhstani state authorities have taken responsibility for the tragedy or compensated the children for the significant damage to their health.
“Since 2003, the residents of Berezovka expressed their deep concern that their children would be harmed by the oil and gas exploitation occurring at the Karachaganak Field, and demanded relocation to a safe and clean location away from the field. The company; the International Finance Corporation, which provided $150 million in loans to develop the field; and the government of Kazakhstan ignored this clear and reasonable demand for almost fifteen years. It is shameful that the children of Berezovka have paid the price for the greed of these institutions with their health,” said Kate Watters, executive director of Crude Accountability.
On April 11, 2018, the parents were informed that a criminal investigation into the case would be closed due to the absence of corpus delicti, although the case materials contain numerous facts about the negative impact of KPO on the environment and human health.
“In the case of the children of Berezovka, the Republic of Kazakhstan and KPO grossly violated and ignored not only provisions of national legislation, but also the Convention on the Rights of the Child ratified by Kazakhstan and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s recommendations concerning the impact of entrepreneurial activity on the rights of children. The state should recognize its responsibility for the tragedy and provide the poisoned children with immediate assistance for treatment and rehabilitation,” says Yevgeny Zhovtis, Director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law.
On November 28, 2014, 25 children and 4 adult residents of Berezovka fainted, developed strong cramps, dizziness, and experienced blood pressure surges and severe headaches. The day before, there was an accident on the Karachaganak Oil and Gas Condensate Field. By the end of 2015, the government of Kazakhstan began relocating residents of Berezovka to the neighboring town of Aksai. The resettlement was completed by January 1, 2018. Villagers had been fighting for their relocation for 14 years.
Crude Accountability calls on the members of the KPO consortium and the Kazakhstani authorities to take responsibility for the tragedy, acknowledge that there was toxic exposure as the result of an accident at the Karachaganak Field, ensure immediate examination and treatment of all Berezovka children affected by toxic poisoning, and compensate their families for the damage to their health.
For more information:
Kate Watters, Crude Accountability