Chemical time bomb in Bratislava’s Vrakuňa keeps ticking

The state is failing to solve leaking chemical waste dump.

Vrakuňa’s citizens presented apples washed in water with leaked toxins at the protest in 2016. Vrakuňa’s citizens presented apples washed in water with leaked toxins at the protest in 2016. (Source: Sme)

A leaking chemical waste dump in the Bratislava borough of Vrakuňa, one of the biggest environmental burdens from the communist regime, remains unsolved. The encapsulation project, i.e. insulating the toxic waste dump with an underground wall, has failed at least for now. The Environment Ministry, at whose helm Milan Chrenko recently replaced Ján Budaj, is familiarising itself with the current situation, evaluating the steps taken in order to decide whether it is more efficient to continue in the encapsulation project or whether to take a different approach.

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“The Environment Ministry considers the solution of the Vrakuňa waste dump to be one of its most urgent tasks,” Tomáš Ferenčák, spokesperson of the ministry told The Slovak Spectator.

Toxic legacy

The Vrakuňa chemical dump, which began life as an official waste site, was used by the chemical company Chemické Závody Juraja Dimitrova (CHZJD). It was built in part of a dried-up branch of the Little Danube river in 1966 and closed down in 1979. About some 120,000 cubic metres of chemical waste were dumped. Later, it was covered with an inert material. After the 1989’s Velvet Revolution, CHJZD was transformed into Istrochem and later privatised. In the process of these transfers it became unclear who was responsible for the toxic waste.

After the hydropower station on the Danube River in Gabčíkovo was put into operation in 1992, the level of underground water started to increase. It gradually reached the level of the contaminated soil as well as chemical waste, and the pollution contaminated the local ground water. As a consequence, locals have not been able to use water from their wells since 2002.

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Pesticides, herbicides, arsenic and more

The location of the waste dump represents an environmental as well as a health risk that requires remedial measures. The geological investigation performed almost 10 years ago confirmed long-standing suspicions of high concentrations of dangerous agents like pesticides, herbicides, benzenes and arsenic, and their gradual spreading. The affected boroughs include Vrakuňa, Ružinov and Podunajské Biskupice, while the leakage continues in the direction towards Žitný Ostrov (Rye Island), considered to be the biggest drinking water reservoir in central Europe.

Out of two possible solutions – encapsulation or the complete removal of the waste dump – the Environment Ministry preferred the former. This approach involved building a wall around the waste dump, which covers about 4.65 hectares. The wall is supposed to be at a depth of 20 metres, where there is an impermeable subsoil layer. Covering was proposed for the site to prevent rain water getting into it. Afterwards the leaked contaminated water should have been pumped out.

The cost of encapsulation was estimated to be between €20 million and €25 million, for which the ministry planned to use EU funds. By comparison, the cost of completely removing the waste dump and cleaning up the site was estimated at €120 million.

Failed project

The encapsulation project to be launched in 2018 has failed for now, as the Environment Ministry, under leadership of Ján Budaj, did not manage to settle ownership relations with some owners of the respective land. It argued that it inherited the project from the previous management of the ministry and that it was not prepared well.

Budaj did not like the encapsulation solution.

“This project costing tens of millions of euros was a very expensive but temporary solution,” the ministry said as cited by the Hospodárske Noviny daily.

The ministry under Budaj’s leadership proposed a new project – a complete removal of the waste dump, to be prepared by March 2024, Hospodárske Noviny reported.

Now, the Environment Ministry under the new minister wants to acquire the land in question.

“Upon receiving the expert’s report, we will enter into negotiations with the individual owners to purchase these plots,” said Ferenčák. “The ministry considers the settlement of the legal relationship to be a necessary step to successfully implement the remediation of the Vrakuňa waste dump.”

For now, the ministry indicates that encapsulation is a likely possibility, depending on the legal and financial situation, under urgent analysis.

“However, it cannot be confirmed with certainty,” said Ferenčák. “The most appropriate solution will result from close cooperation between experts in geology, hydrogeology, geotechnics and other related fields.”

Drinking water sources not endangered, for now

While the pollution from the waste dump keeps spreading, no drinking water resources operated by the regional water utility Bratislavská Vodárenská Spoločnosť on Žitný Ostrov is endangered. They are mostly located close to the Danube, i.e. not in the direction of groundwater flow from this landfill, Peter Podstupka, BVS’ spokesman, told this the TASR newswire. He added that nevertheless the state should take the necessary steps to remove the waste dump as soon as possible.

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