Economic development has been driven, to a considerable extent, by progress and innovation in the chemical industry.
Intensive production and wide usage make chemicals a major cause of concern. A significant number of chemicals find their way into millions of consumer products, and from there enter the environment. Whether or not a chemical is hazardous to human beings or ecosystems depends on its properties, its form, the environmental medium in which it is found, its concentration, and the stages of potential exposure.
Tracing the path of certain hazardous chemicals in the environment is frequently complicated by the fact that the same chemicals occur naturally. Once released into the environment, chemicals become part of complex natural atmospheric, geochemical and biological cycles.
Toxic products can be found in the air, water, soil and biosphere, and in the food we eat.
The complexity and development of chemical products in recent years has outpaced systematic research into their environmental impacts, despite the fact that serious and undesirable effects have been detected in terms of both human health and the environment.
Belarus has a developed industrial sector, with the chemical industry as one of its branches. Major chemical companies are located in Babruysk, Gomel, Grodno, Mogilev, Navapolatsk and Svietlahorsk. The most dangerous chemical pollutants are emitted during the production of plastics, rubber products, organic solvents, synthetic fibres and fertilisers.
The most hazardous inorganic emissions are carbon monoxide, sulphur and nitrogen oxides, and ammonia. Some inorganic pollutants are released into the air and water along with heavy metals. The Belarusian Metallurgical Plant, for example, a steel enterprise located near Zhlobin, releases iron into the air along with other inorganic pollutants.
Oil processing complexes in Navapolatsk and Mozyr emit a wide range of organic substances, including solvents and acids. Somewhat less dangerous is the building industry, which emits cement and wood dust, phenols and formaldehyde during the production of construction materials.
The chemical and petrochemical industry is one of the country’s largest industries in terms of production volume and number of employees. Other key industries include textile manufacturing and mining for potash.
The Belneftekhim petrochemical consortium comprises 83 factories and plants that produce synthetic resins and plastics. The consortium:
The Naftan Production Association, located in Navapolatsk, is the largest refinery in Europe, and the Mozyr Oil Refinery is another giant in the domestic petrochemical industry.
The Mogilev Open Joint Stock Company (OJSC) is one of Europe’s largest facilities for the production of polyester fibres and yarns. The enterprise combines a series of industries into a single technological cycle, from the extraction of raw materials to finished products.
Svietlahorsk Khimvalakno OJSC is a modern enterprise engaged in the production of viscose filament yarn, cord fabric, polyester filament yarn, and carbon fibre materials and composites. It also has divisions that are developing industrial prototypes for the production of a non-woven polypropylene material called spunbond.
The Khimvolokno production and technological complex Grodno Azot JSC produces polyamide-based products such as tyre cord fabric for the tyre industry, fishing lines, rubber products, conveyor belts, bulk continuous filament fibres for carpets, floor coverings, and tufted and staple fibres.
The Belaruskaliy OJSC, based in Salihorsk, is one of the world’s largest producers and suppliers of potash fertilisers (11 percent of total world exports). It produces fine-grained potassium chloride, granular potassium chloride, mixed potassium salt, technical sodium chloride, salt for food and livestock, liquid brine, and salt blocks for halochambers.
Another modern enterprise, also called Grodno Azot JSC, produces ammonia, urea, caprolactam, liquid fertilisers, ammonium sulphate and sulphuric acid.
The Gomel Chemical Plant OJSC produces sulphuric acid, aluminium fluoride, cryolite, nepheline retardant, granular ammonium phosphate, anhydrous technical sodium sulphite, various brands of nitrogen-potassium-phosphate fertilisers, ammoniated superphosphate and aluminium sulphate.
Belshina OJSC is a versatile enterprise that produces tyres for cars, trucks, heavy goods vehicles, buses and trolley buses, as well as road construction machinery, tractors and agricultural machinery.
Statistics published annually in Belarus allow a rough estimation to be made of emissions from industrial enterprises located in major cities. The most polluted town in Belarus is Navapolatsk, followed by Minsk, Mozyr, Gomel, Grodno, Babruysk, Mogilev, Salihorsk, Zhlobin and Vitebsk. However, motor vehicles also contribute significantly to air pollution, and this contribution is not easy to assess correctly, which means that the reality may be somewhat different from the official figures.
Responsibility for the coordination, monitoring and control of chemical emissions is shared among a large number of agencies, including the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of the Economy, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. In carrying out their tasks, ministries and agencies are governed by legislative and other documents of different levels: decrees of the president of Belarus, laws of Belarus, decisions of the Council of Ministers, decisions taken at inter-ministerial level, and orders and decrees issued from separate departments. The country has also signed and ratified a number of international agreements.
Belarus has ratified the following international agreements:
Further information about these conventions and other international agreements that have been signed or ratified by Belarus can be found on the website of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus: www.minpriroda.gov.by/ru/napravlenia/mejdunsotr/konvencia
In the interests of national security and the protection of human health and the environment, the Presidential Decree on Licensing Certain Types of Activities (2003) requires that a licence be obtained for the handling of chemicals.
Chemicals-related activities are addressed in the Water Code of the Republic of Belarus, as well as in numerous laws, including the laws on:
In addition, requirements for monitoring the use of chemicals and preventing
their negative impacts are defined in the decisions of the Council of Ministers on:
The above legislation follows a basic framework and establishes the general requirements for preventing exposure to adverse environmental impacts. However, the existing instruments fail to address a number of important areas, such as requirements concerning the handling of chemicals, health risk assessment criteria, environmental criteria for banning the use of a chemical in the country, and classifications for labelling.
In addition to the laws
mentioned above, the following acts govern public access to
information and public participation in decision making:
A list of items of environmental information was established by the Decree of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus No. 22 of May 29, 2003. According to this list, "environmental information" includes information on air quality, ozone-depleting substances, anthropogenic impacts on soil, drinking water and groundwater, natural and technogenic emergency situations, waste management, environmental impacts on human health, and the quality control of consumer goods.
Despite the existence of documents that ensure public access to information, such access often remains difficult in practice, especially if the information relates to hazardous chemicals and risks to human health and the environment.
There are several NGOs and other institutions engaged in efforts to raise awareness about chemicals and the associated risks to human health and the environment. They include:
The analysis of chemicals-related legislation is based on the report Analysis of Requirements and Determination of Mechanisms for the Effective Dissemination of Information to the Public of Belarus about the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), written by Yuri Soloviev and Elena Chernorutskaya (2012) in the framework of the International Public Organisation (IPO) Ecoproject Partnership.