Kazakhstan: persistent organic pollutants

Republic of Kazakhstan – a Central Asian state located almost in the very center of Eurasian continent. Its territory is 2.725 million square kilometers (the 9th largest country in the world). The country’s administrative division includes 14 oblasts, 160 regions, and 2276 village and agricultural districts. Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan.

The country’s population is 14 million 958 thousand (1999). Age groups most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) include: children younger than 14 years of age – 32.1%; senior citizens – 13.3%. Urbanization ration – 56%. Proportion of women in the total population – 51.8%, proportion of men – 48.2%. Proportion of population younger than economically active age – 30.7%, older than economically active age – 12.6%. Total workforce – 5.85 million, including 5.53 million workers and administrative personnel; total workforce employed in agriculture – 0.32 million.

Overall density of population is very low with the average of 5.5 persons per square kilometer. Most densely populated regions include irrigated agricultural regions of southern Kazakhstan – Almaty and South-Kazakhstan oblasts (17 persons per square kilometer).
The country’s climate is arid and acutely continental. Most of the country’s territory lacks outbound water flows which limits relocation of persistent organic pollutants out of Kazakhstan at the same time facilitating POPs accumulation inside Kazakhstan.
A major proportion of the country’s territory consists of plains. In northern and western directions Kazakhstan is open for air masses potentially containing POPs from industrial regions of Russian Federation, however, Kazakhstan is protected by mountains from incoming eastern and south-eastern air currents. In the warm time of the year sub-meridian currents relocate air masses from Kazakhstan to the territory of Russia.
The country’s size, low density of population, underdeveloped communications infrastructure hinder effective management of persistent organic pollutants.
Decrease in overall levels of agricultural production led to a plunge in the quantities of pesticides used in agriculture to combat harmful insects.
Kazakhstan’s industry is based on natural resources extraction and processing (oil and gas, mining and chemical industries).

Sources of Persistent Toxic Substances (PTS)

Key industrial sources of persistent toxic substances are related to high-temperature production processes – ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy, power generation.
Products or pollutants embedded in products. The country does not produce persistent toxic substances and most industrial pollutants are located in the products – electrical machinery (condensators, transformers).
Across the country one can often observe open flames and associated exhaust gases. In different years there are 10-20 thousand open fires registered throughout Kazakhstan. A major proportion of burnt down territories is associated with forest fires – 16-26 thousand hectares since 1996. A major fire unique in its persistence and duration took place at Tengiz oil field (Atyrau region) from June 1985 to July 1986.

Solid Wastes Discharge

Kazakhstan’s territory is covered with more than 20 billion tones of solid wastes. Annually the amount of solid wastes increases by 1 billion tones. Major stockpiles of toxic industrial solid wastes have been accumulated at non-ferrous metallurgy plants (more than 5.2 billion tones, including 4 billion tones of mining wastes; more than 1.1 billion tones of processing wastes and 105 million tones of smoldering wastes).
Industrial wastes including toxic ones are currently stored in different facilities irrespective of ecological standards and requirements. They adversely impact a wide variety of environmental components polluting the atmosphere, soils, surface and underground waters with toxic elements. Increase in the height of waste piles supports active involvement of toxic elements into intensive dust formation. Discharge of solid wastes has never been assessed from the standpoint of persistent toxic substances.

Agricultural production

Key sources of persistent toxic substances include pesticides used against harmful insects, as well as outdated and unusable stockpiles of pesticides qualified as persistent organic pollutants.

Concentration in the environment

Priority environmental components fostering accumulation of persistent toxic substances include (key ones at the top):

  • Water and surface organisms
  • Residual accumulations
  • Soils
  • Underground waters
  • Surface waters

Hot spots

1. Caspian Sea
2. Balkhash Lake

Projects and programs aimed at monitoring levels of concentration. Kazhydromet service units monitor a limited set of environmental components (surface waters and soils) and only some chemical components – DDT and isomers, GCCG and their isomers. Measurements are taken irregularly, including instances when measurements are not taken at all in certain years.
Fishing enterprises demonstrate greater interest in monitoring persistent toxic substances – Kazakh Fishing Scientific Research Institute (and its Balkhash branch, particularly after 1988), Caspian ecological program.
In 1990-2000 based on average annual levels rivers most polluted with DDT are grouped in the following order (see Table 2):

Table 2
DDT Concentration in surface waters of Kazakhstan’s rivers,
(micrograms per cubic decimeter)

River Concentration
Average Maximum
Ilek 0.0444  0.2000
Ural 0.0036 0.0200
Ishym  0.0030 0.0190
Tobol  0.0018 0.0090
Irtysh  0.0015 0.0080
Syrdarya  0.0012 0.0040
Nura  0.0000 0.0000
Keles 0.0000 0.0000

Caspian Sea

Overall dynamics of Northern Caspian Sea pollution have been marked by maximum levels of pollution parameters in 1970s and 1980s with lower pollution levels in mid-1990s, mostly related to the decline in industrial and agricultural production.
These generalized statements are not always true for particular regions of the Sea and specific toxic components. Particularly, concentration of chlorine organic pesticides has been steadily decreasing in water and seabed accumulations; to the contrary petroleum products, phenols and some metals concentrations have been increasing. Chronic pollution of the Caspian Sea has led to development of significant toxic substances accumulations in fish tissues and organs. In 1980s all types of fish and, particularly, representatives of the sturgeon family exhibited concentrations of chlorine organic pesticides ranging from minimum levels to more than 5-6 maximum acceptable concentration levels.
Sturgeon family fish is exposed to greatest risks since sturgeon and related fish have lengthy life cycles allowing them to accumulate high levels of toxic substances.
Chlorine organic pesticides actively used in agriculture in 1960-80 represent the key reason for development of pathologies among various types of fish.
Russian specialists estimate that massive pesticides impacts on sturgeon took place in this timeframe. Almost all internal substance circulation systems have been affected.
Malfunctioning of various systems and organs has led to disruptions in sturgeon reproduction abilities. By the end of 1980s anywhere from 44% to 51% of all sturgeon specimen exhibited reproductive functions disruptions.

ADDITIONAL CHEMICAL SUBSTANCES: persistent toxic substances representing major concerns in Kazakhstan

1. Multi cyclical aromatic hydrocarbons
2. Mercury organic substances
3. Tin based organic substances
5. PBDE (flame prevention and inhibiting substances)

No data on concentration of multi cyclical aromatic hydrocarbons, mercury organic substances or PBDE in environmental components was found in openly published sources of information.
GCCG is a matter of particular concern in Kazakhstan because of its presence in various environments and its traditional presence in various pesticides subject to further studies.

Air. In Kazakhstan no research has been conducted to study atmospheric pollution by GCCG.

Underwater accumulations:
• Northwestern shores of Aral Sea
• Small Aral Sea
• Large Aral Sea
• Surface waters (water and seabed accumulations)

Based on monitoring results provided by Kazhydromet service units in 1999-2000, the following table (please, see Table 4) represents average annual GCCG pollution levels for key rivers (higher levels at the top of the table):

Table 4
GCCG Concentration in Kazakhstan’s rivers,
(micrograms per cubic decimeter)

River Concentration
Average Maximum
Nura 0.0596 0.2710
Syrdarya  0.0317 0.0560
Keles  0.0092 0.0190
Ishym  0.0064 0.0300
Ural  0.0051 0.0190
Tobol  0.0034 0.0140
Irtysh  0.0032 0.0120
Ilek 0.0023 0.0090

Aral Sea
GCCG presence is identified in 61% of all samples taken at 25 control points. In Small Aral Sea identification frequency reaches 75%. In Large Aral Sea identification frequency is 50%.

By Marat Ishankulov
Senior Expert, “Institutional capacity building for sustainable
 development of the Republic of Kazakhstan”

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