Stenches violate Ukrainians’ environmental rights


Unpleasant smells have become the norm for many people living in Ukraine. Yet most people don’t even suspect what danger polluted air presents. Headaches, disrupted liver, stomach and pancreas functions, other health issues can all be caused by ordinary stenches. The environmental problems are reflected in numerous reports of environmental organizations, monitoring groups and alternative reports within the framework of international human rights mechanisms. The last such report was used by the UN Human Rights Council during Ukraine’s Second Periodic Review at the end of 2012.

At a press club in Lviv entitled “Careful, it stinks!”, human right and environmental activists discussed how to defend their right to a safe environment.  Odessa; Mariupol; Zaporizhya and Lviv are examples of cities whose inhabitants have run up against the problem of unpleasant smells. The scale of the problem is increasing with a large number of new enterprises of the agricultural industry having appeared over the last decade: bird farms; pig farms; milk product firms and slaughter yards; food industry enterprises, including oil-pressing factories which increase the importance of measures to fight unpleasant smells.

Unfortunately these enterprises are often not equipped with the proper cleaning machines. It is this that is leading to public dissatisfaction, while the unpleasant smells which are formed by specific air pollutants are seen as one of the factors which can adversely affect health.  So what are the components?

Hydrogen sulphide is a neurotropic poison which can cause headaches; irritability; disrupted liver, stomach and pancreas functions.

Ammonium hits the nervous system; respiratory paths and can cause pneumonia, bronchitis, and encourage the development of bronchial asthma. It also irritates tear glands and respiratory passages.

Mercaptan have allergic effect and are dangerous for pregnant women.  Women who have been subjected to hydrogen sulphide for a long time may suffer miscarriages or give birth to underweight babies.

Unfortunately in Ukraine there are no studies of the impact of smells on health.  This is despite the fact that such components of these emissions as ammonium, hydrogen sulphide, metal-mercantan and other hazardous substances in the second and fourth danger category should be subjected to constant monitoring with the results being accessible to people living in the regions near dangerous sites.

Environmentalists are convinced that the situation needs to be changed and insist on the need to carry out a thorough study of the issue. They say that a State programme needs to be developed for reducing the risk to the population from stench.

In Lviv they need to have current results of monitoring not only of the quality of sewage pouring into the city system through the year, but also the results of monitoring of atmospheric air in the city centre. According to the relevant indicators demonstrating the content of ammonium, hydrogen sulphide or metal-mercantan or other markers which would help in such a study to identify problems with smells and their sources.  This would make it possible to invite hygienists to consult on health risks or reduction in the quality of life and environmental conditions in the city, determine their reasons and priority measures for improving the situation.

Representatives of the NGO Mama-86 suggest that an inter-departmental commission be created from members of bodies of local self-government, the State Sanitary Hygiene Inspection, environmental protection bodies, environmental inspection, emergencies, doctors, scientists and members of the public for detailed study of the issue. If necessary international experts could also be invited, as well as Ukrainian.  Human rights activists call on the public to not endure the present situation, but lodge law suits. There have already been precedents in Europe when people managed to defend their right to a safe environment.  Such judgements have also been issued by the European Court of Human Rights.

Environmental rights and their defence in Ukraine have also drawn the attention of the international community. For example, during the Second Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, UN member states recommended that Ukraine take all measures to bring its national legislation into line with the Espo and Aarhus Conventions in order to ensure the right to an environment safe for life and health, and use the relevant international experience on protecting human rights in zones of environmental crisis and ensure implementation of legislation on protecting the environment. 

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