Ecoclub`s court against Department of Ecology of Rivne regional state administration – the results of the first hearing – Ecoclub Rivne is an environmental NGO

Ecoclub`s court against Department of Ecology of Rivne regional state administration – the results of the first hearing

Ecoclub`s court against Department of Ecology of Rivne regional state administration – the results of the first hearing

Ecoclub continues to demand in court the cancellation of the conclusion on the safety of the woodworking plant “Kronospan”, which is being built near Rivne. The Department of Ecology and Natural Resources of Rivne Regional State Administration (hereinafter – the Department) issued a positive conclusion for the construction of the enterprise, despite mentioned in the environmental impact assessment report (EIA) dangerous amounts of hazardous emissions. This will affect the health of Horodok residents and residents of surrounding communities, as well as the environment.

On June 16, the case against the Department began. In this case, Kronospan defends the legality of a positive conclusion on the EIA report. The court hearing was attended by representatives of the woodworking company – lawyers and witnesses, but representatives from the Department did not appear.

The article explains why we filed a lawsuit against the Department, what was told by lawyers and witnesses during the court hearing.

What is the lawsuit about?

This is the second round of litigation in the case against the Department. The case has been pending for almost two years, because the courts made an illegal decision to return Ecoclub`s lawsuit. Subsequently, the duration was influenced by the martial law in Ukraine, the participation of many sides in this process. More details about it here.

Ecoclub is convinced: the Department did not conduct a proper professional assessment of Kronospan’s report, so a positive conclusion on Kronospan’s environmental impact assessment violates the norms of Ukrainian Law. There are a few arguments based on evidences, why we think so:

– While organizing public hearings, Kronospan violated the terms of their holding.

The announcement of the second public hearings, which took place on December 23, was not published on the Environmental Impact Assessment Register of Ukraine. They were announced in the regional mass media on December 19. Thus, public hearings took place the next working day. According to Ukrainian law, the company must announce public hearings ten days before its start.

“I got to know about second public hearings from locals, not from open sources like mass media. As a water management specialist, I had many reservations about this facility, so I wanted to hear answers to them. I prepared a few remarks to the report and passed them to a person who was collecting all the remarks during the first hearings,” says Vasyl Korbutiak, Associate Professor of the Department of Land Management, Cadastre, Land Monitoring and Geoinformatics of the National University of Water and Environmental Engineering.

The public was not able to get acquainted with other additional documentation to the EIA report in time, which is necessary for the environmental impact assessment, and to submit their comments or suggestions.

As is known from the Environmental Impact Assessment Register of Ukraine website, such information was published only on January 15, 2020, on the last day of the public discussion.

“On January 15, 2020, on the last day of the public discussion of the EIA report, Kronospan uploaded additional documentation (a 100-page document) to the EIA report on the website. The public was not able to get acquainted in time with other additional documentation, which is necessary for the environmental impact assessment, and to submit their comments or suggestions to it, ” said Natalia Kholodova, Ecoclub`s campaigner.

Ecoclub`s lawyer Vitaliy Kitovsky believes that this violates the right of citizens to free access to information about the state of the environment:

“Besides, it contradicts Ukraine’s international obligations. The public should have enough time to get acquainted with all the necessary documentation. It is clear that it is impossible to analyze additional information and submit proposals in one day,” the lawyer said.

Report`s developers had to consider the territorial and technological alternatives to the planned activities of the woodworking plant.

Dmytro Stefanyshyn, a doctor of technical sciences and an employee of the Institute of Telecommunications and Global Information Space of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, noted the importance of the territorial alternative for potentially dangerous enterprises: 

“I added comments to the report, among which I emphasized the territorial alternative. I received an answer that the location was chosen in advance, that is, it was not subject to discussion. It was also noted that the economic interests of the enterprise were taken into account first.

Instead, the Law states: before starting the construction of potentially dangerous for the environment and human health, only the possible consequences for the environment can be taken into account.”

Kronospan`s lawyer Natalia Anokhina explained why the company did not consider a territorial alternative for its activities:

“The company carried out the reconstruction of this enterprise: everything for industrial purposes. The entire territory, with an area of 60 hectares, is an existing industrial hub. Tractor units` factory and a foundry operated there. There were no recreational parks nearby. So what could be a better alternative to an already existing industrial zone? What can be an alternative to a site that is an enterprise`s property? It is not a site that the regional state administration or territorial community allocated for such activities.” 

The environmental impact assessment report mentioned that one of the most dangerous substances that kronospan will emit is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen, long-term inhalation of which can cause cancer and respiratory diseases. 

Also the Department did not take into account the possible location of the enterprise in areas that are far from populated areas. And this could significantly reduce the potential harm to residents of nearby communities.  

The village is located in a kind of landlow. From the north, the village is surrounded by the well-known reserve Vyshneva Hora. Due to certain atmospheric phenomena, all dangerous emissions may be concentrated in this area, they will not spread further,” Dmytro Stefanyshyn said. 

Kronospan`s EIA report also contains information on exceeding the safe content of pollutants after the start of the woodworking plant.

Thus, the local population may have cancer or respiratory diseases due to emissions of formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide and suspended substances.

“The indicated numbers mean the probability of the occurrence of adverse effects. Before calculating in the table, we indicated that the numbers are overestimated, and took into account the maximum one-time indicators,” said Yulia Oksak, report`s developer. 

EIA report authors also did not calculate the dispersion of pollutants in atmospheric air by all summation groups (when certain pollutants in the air are combined, their impact on human health and the environment increases, – Ecoclub).

Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, as well as ammonia, formaldehyde, and hydrogen sulfide have the effect of summation. Therefore, the Department did not pay attention to the lack of a full description about the impact after the planned activity on the environment in the report. 

“The conclusion on the admissibility of the planned activity allows Technoprivid Invest Group LLC (that is, Kronospan) to emit pollutants in concentrations dangerous to human health, which violates the law,” says the lawyer of the Ecoclub. 

Report`s developer, Yulia Oksak, believes that the impact of pollutants on the population has been sufficiently taken into account: 

“EIA report also states that the impact of the planned activity on the population is taken into account, the influence indicators are permissible. The expert checked the conclusion for the conformity of environmental conditions in order to ensure the absence of risks of carcinogenic/non-carcinogenic effects and indicated that such conditions for an environmental conclusion are sufficient. The report also contains sufficient information regarding the cumulative impact. The cumulative impact is permissible.” 

During the report`s preparation, the developers ignored the requirements of the existing procedure for establishing the pollutants level in the air. They also did not analyze the real state of air and soil pollution.

In the environmental impact assessment report, the developers calculated the maximum allowable rate of a pollutant that will leak into the Ustya River with rainwater from the enterprise`s territory. They analyzed the existing content of pollutants for this.

The data from the company’s report differ significantly from the data published by the Department itself in reviews about the environment state in 2019 and the data established in studies commissioned by the Rivne Regional State Administration.

The worst class of water quality is the fifth. In 2018, research carried out by the  National University of Water and Environmental Engineering`s scientists showed that from the river’s exit from Rivne to the place where the river flows into Horyn – the class of water quality is fourth. So this information contradicts what is indicated in the EIA report. If Kronospan flows dangerous substances into Ustya, it endangers the existence of the river’s ecosystem,” says Vasyl Korbutyak. 

During public discussions, Ecoclub informed the Department that the formaldehyde and benzene content in the village exceeded safe levels. So, even before the start of construction, it posed a threat to the health and life of locals. The Department ignored these comments.

In addition, one of the largest plants in the chemical industry of Ukraine – “Rivneazot” – has been operating near Horodok for more than 50 years. Therefore, any other industrial enterprise can be located only if the emissions of pollutants from other sources are taken into account. According to Ecoclub, the data on existing environmental pollution in Horodok, submitted by Kronospan, were not obtained by the report`s developers in the manner prescribed by law. This was also emphasized by lawyer Vitaly Kitovsky.

What’s next?

All the causes that Ecoclub indicates stated that Kronospan violated the procedure for carrying out an environmental impact assessment, and the Department did not pay attention to the violation. If the court sides with the public, Kronospan`s construction permit will be revoked.

The woodworking plant is currently carrying out construction work. The next hearing of this case will continue on July 1, during which written evidence will be examined.