Karachaganak Kazakhstan

They’ve Recorded It! It’s Proven!

Lukpan Akhmedyarov
Uralsk Weekly
December 15, 2005

The Initiative Group of Berezovka residents are preparing a lawsuit against the company, “Karachaganak Petroleum Operating.” They hold in their hands irrefutable evidence of the foreign company’s participation in the destruction of their land and inflicting harm on their health!

What the population of Berezovka had feared is now a fact. The results of independent laboratory research of air samples from the village of Berezovka in the Burlinsky Raion have confirmed the presence of 25 toxic elements in their air. Of these, three are carcinogenic, that is they cause cancers. Toxic emissions from Karachaganak are dispersed in a radius of 30 kilometers and inflict damage on the health not only of residents of Berezovka, but also of Aksai—these are the results of the scientific research that the Initiative Group conducted with the assistance of the international environmental organization Crude Accountability.

During the course of the past year—from August 2004 to September 2005, the residents of the village sent air samples to a laboratory of the American agency of toxic substances at California University. Last week they received the results of the scientific research. Svetlana Anosova and Rosa Khusainova—members of the Berezovka Initiative Group, brought documented results of the laboratory research to us at the editorial center. They sent seven air samples to the California university, which were taken in different months and according to a strict, scientific methodology. The American laboratory identified twenty-five toxic elements in the Berezovka air samples. In each sample, concentrations of such toxic substances as methylene chloride, carbon disulfide, toluene, acrylonitrile, hydrogen sulfide, acetone, xylenes, and 1,2,4 trimethylbenzene, were above the maximum permissible concentrations (MPC), allowable in Kazakhstan and, as they are called in the United States, “levels of concern.”

Several of the elevated toxins are classified as carcinogenic; in particular, methylene chloride is labeled by the US laboratory as a 4th class toxin, explains Kate Watters, coordinator of Crude Accountability. “And trimethylbenzene, has been labeled a class 6 (!) toxin because of its negative impact on human reproductive functions and the development of the fetus.”

This is the first experience of independent scientifically sound analysis of the emissions at Karachaganak. In fact, it is possible that both the company, “Karachaganak Petroleum Operating,” and the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Kazakhstan have access to such data, but hide it from the public and employees. The State Ecology Department and KPO, in their monitoring, have only shown hydrogen sulfide, and always asserted that maximum permissible concentrations were not exceeded. The results of the research carried out by the Initiative Group demonstrate that many more toxins have been emitted into the environment. In addition, for the first time, information from the US Agency for Toxic Substances is available to the local population, which shows what harm these toxic elements have on the human body. In particular, an acute exposure to methylene chloride and hydrogen sulfide can be lethal. The report of the American scholars demonstrates the impact of long-term exposure on the human organism. Methylene chloride, toluene and acrylonitrile are included in the group B2—toxic substances that are potential carcinogens, that is they may cause cancer. The American scientists’ prognosis of the impact of these toxins on the human organism is completely consistent with the data of a survey of the Berezovka villagers. The majority of residents suffer from headaches, nausea, dizziness, and loss of memory. Many have illnesses of the nervous system, skin lesions, and loss of hearing and vision.

The results of the research also support the data of the Oblast Environmental Protection Administration. Last year, 56 thousand tons of pollution were emitted into the atmosphere. This violation of environmental protection legislation on the part of KPO B.V. resulted in a temporary loss of their license for operation of emissions.

Added to this is the fact that laboratory research of water taken from the water pipe in the village of Berezovka in December 2004 demonstrated that the chemical composition of the water was not in compliance with “drinking water” standards.

Thus, one could determine that in the argument that has gone on for many years between Berezovka residents and the company, KPO, the most recently presented data are irrefutable proof of KPO’s participation in destroying the environment and harming their health. The village residents have added the demand for payment of compensation for the loss of their health to their previous demand for relocation.

Along with the air monitoring, a sociological survey of the population was conducted in Berezovka. The sociological research was developed by the Russian expert, P. Malysheva, and conducted by the residents of Berezovka, who underwent the appropriate training. In the spring and summer of 2005, 258 heads of household in Berezovka were interviewed. Then the interview forms were sent to Moscow for analysis by independent sociologists from the Russian Academy of Sciences, I. Belov and I. Khalii.

The sociologists’ results call into question the position of the authorities, which had been stated earlier. We recall that before this, the state-run press stated that the idea to relocate Berezovka was only the concern of a small group of villagers under the leadership of Svetlana Anosova. Two hundred fifty eight families of 370 officially counted homes were interviewed. Ninety percent of the villagers stated that they would like to be relocated to a safer area to live. On the question of the motivation for relocation, over half (53.6 percent) of the respondents noted that environmental conditions were the main reason. Thirty percent of the respondents stated that health problems were their reason. “The level of the sociological survey that was conducted is, in reality, on the level of a plebiscite, a public statement of mistrust,” says Aleksey Knizhnikov, the coordinator of Crude Accountability’s information program. “The problem is such that if it isn’t resolved, it will lead to a deepening of the conflict.”

The Moscow sociologists prepared concrete recommendations for conducting relocation. In particular, they recommended that the authorities and the company take into consideration the desire of the majority of Berezovka residents to live in single-family homes, and not in city-style apartments. They also recommended “not only to ensure that there will be jobs for those who are resettled, but to obtain their agreement to the new work conditions.” In addition, it was recommended that the conditions of relocation be discussed with the population because the “majority of the village residents are ready to create a group for conducting negotiations.”


INSET 1: From the research results of the general analysis of blood samples of Berezovka residents (December 2004)

“The level of hemoglobin is lower than the norm among 75 percent of the children and teenagers. The composition of the segment-nuclear neutrophiles is lower among 60 percent of the children and teenagers living in the zone, which is characteristic of chronic poisoning, accompanied by lowered immunity.”
“Study of the blood among the control group of Berezovka residents demonstrated elevated levels of leukocytes among the majority of those who were studied. According to the conclusions of the doctors who conducted the research, there is a dependency between the identified symptoms and the pollution of the environment in the field’s zone of influence.”

Table 4: For and Against Relocation

What do you think about relocation of your village? Number of Responses %
For 233 90.3
Against 20 7.8
I don’t know 4 1.6
No response 1 0.4
TOTAL 258 100.00

In 2002, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Kazakhstan wrote a letter to the residents of Berezovka, in which it was stated that because of their close proximity to the Karachaganak Field, they were entitled to relocation. In accordance with legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Berezovka must be relocated because it is situated on the border of the Sanitary Protection Zone (SPZ—five kilometers from the field at the time the letter was received from the Ministry). On January 1, 2004, without any explanation to the local residents, the SPZ was reduced to 3 kilometers, and Berezovka found itself outside the borders. Later, KPO and the local administration explained that the reduction of the SPZ became possible because of the introduction of “new” technology at the field.

Crude Accountability is a nongovernmental environmental organization focused on environmental protection in the Caspian Sea basin. Crude Accountability works in close partnership with local activists in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan and has representatives in Ashgabat, Baku, Moscow and Tbilisi. The main office is located in Alexandria (Virginia, USA). The Board of Directors of Crude Accountability includes representatives of the USA, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan.

To empower residents, protect the unique, threatened ecosystems of the Caspian region, and hold accountable all those exploiting the region’s natural resources, Crude Accountability provides information and technical assistance to citizens and organizations working to preserve the environment of the Caspian.

From the Editors
We think that the irrefutable evidence of a foreign company’s participation in the destruction of the villagers’ way of life and the poisoning of their health—evidence that we received from the hands of the Berezovkva Initiative Group—enables the Initiative Group to raise in court the issue of guilt on the part of the state organs and responsible bodies, who are guilty of concealing information that threatens the safety and health of the population. The issue at hand is that of responsibility under the criminal code.


Translation by Crude Accountability

Translator’s Note: The air monitoring data from Berezovka was analyzed by Columbia Analytical Laboratories in Simi Valley, California, which has no connection to the University of California. Information about the levels of concern and impact on human health of the toxins found in the samples is from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Heath Administration and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry websites and from the Kazakhstani legislation on atmospheric emissions.