UNECE notes with concern the attacks on industrial facilities in Ukraine since the beginning of the war and calls for a prompt end of the hostilities and the prevention of technological disasters, which could affect the population and environment of Ukraine and neighbouring countries.
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the risk of industrial accidents has been aggravated significantly. Several fuel depots and gas pipelines have been bombed, with additional reports of burning warehouses storing chemicals. For example, on 27 February, an oil depot in Vasylkiv, near Kyiv, was hit and set ablaze as a result of a missile attack. On 4 March 2022, a combined heat and power plant in Okhtyrka in the Sumy region was destroyed by an airstrike; and on 7 March a fire at the oil depots in Zhytomyr and Chernyakhiv occurred after air strikes. Moreover, in the current circumstances maintaining safety measures and scrutiny at high levels proves challenging for operators and authorities. Even in installations where scrutiny is normally high, safety may now be compromised.
Ukraine is a highly industrialized country, in which – in addition to several nuclear power plants – numerous industrial facilities holding hazardous chemical substances are located, ranging from the agricultural sector to the oil and gas industry, pulp and paper, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, machine-building and mining.
While Ukraine is not a Party to the UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents, the assistance provided under the Convention since 2005 has allowed the country to map and better understand its industrial risks. Among the hazardous facilities in the mining sector, for example, are 465 tailings management facilities (TMFs), which store over 6 billion tons of waste arising from the extraction and processing industries as well as the energy sector.
An accident at a facility holding toxic mining waste or other hazardous substances could have severe and long-term consequences, including on neighbouring and riparian countries, aggravating human suffering and causing serious environmental harm. Prevention efforts need to be placed at the forefront to avert any severe, transboundary and long-term effects of industrial accidents, the remediation of which would necessitate significant efforts in terms of human and financial resources even in times of peace.
Notes to editors
For 30 years UNECE, through its Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents, has been supporting member States in the pan-European region in industrial accident prevention, preparedness and response in order to protect people and the environment. The UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents was adopted in 1992, and entered into force in 2000. Since then, countries in the pan-European region, comprising Parties and beneficiary countries of the Assistance and Cooperation Programme, have been cooperating in fostering its implementation. Today, the Convention counts 41 Parties. Countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia have benefited from activities under the Convention’s Assistance and Cooperation Programme, founded in 2004. Through the high-level commitment declaration in 2005, the majority of these countries have set out to progressively implement the Convention’s provisions and aspire towards eventual accession.
The Convention applies to installations (so-called “hazardous activities”) holding hazardous substances covered by its annex I, which may cause transboundary effects. At the same time, it sets out to strengthen more broadly policymaking and governance for industrial safety and technological disaster risk reduction, in the spirit of the Sendai Framework. Among its key provisions are the identification of hazardous activities, and related information-sharing with neighbouring countries, the preparation of joint or harmonized off-site contingency plans, prompt notification in case of an industrial accident and mutual assistance to help mitigate consequences. The Convention does not apply to nuclear facilities.
In 2008-2009, under the auspices of UNECE’s Joint Expert Group on Water and Industrial Accidents, Safety Guidelines and Good Practices on TMFs have been developed. In 2013, the German Environment Agency, under the auspices of the Industrial Accident Convention’s workplans, developed a checklist methodology to support application of the Safety Guidelines and supported application of this methodology in Ukraine when implementing two projects in the period from 2013 to 2017, and in selected countries of Eastern, South-Eastern Europe and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia thereafter. The Methodology has most recently been updated in 2020. UNECE, with the support of Switzerland, has been supporting related mapping efforts in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan since 2018.