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By John Helmer, Moscow

Evraz, Russia’s largest steelmaking group, has announced this week the creation of a special internal committee on health, safety and environment, and will appoint a new vice president to supervise these issues. A company statement says it “is focused on increasing the level of industrial safety, labour protection and care of the environment across its international operations.”

More than any other Russian steel concern, Evraz has had work safety and environmental problems. Raspadskaya, an associated coalminer, had a catastrophic methane blast in May, which killed 90 and stopped all operations in its underground mine shafts. Before that, two mines in the Yuzhkuzbassugol (YKU) group, also in the Kemerovo region and wholly owned by Evraz, suffered methane explosions. The first, at YKU’s Ulyanovskaya mine in March of 2007, killed 110 miners, the record toll for a Russian mine disaster. Then in May of the same year, a methane explosion at the Yubileinaya mine, caused 38 fatalities. Early this year, YKU was cleared by the mine safety regulator Rostekhnadzor (RTN) to reopen the Esaulskaya mine, after a methane accident on January 20 led to a court-ordered closure on January 25. The Esaulskaya accident was a fire ignited by methane concentration above the regulated safety level; although 68 miners were in the area of the methane ignition, none was hurt.

The Evraz group has also been under court, regional and federal government orders to build a new waste treatment plant to curb river contamination from its Novokuznetsk steel mill at the city of that name. But the company has been reluctant to spend the Rb2.4 billion ($77 million) cost of the system. In 2006, the spokesman for the environmental monitoring agency, Rosprirodnadzor, Yevgeny Snegirev, told CRU Steel News that on February 16 of that year, his agency had sent an official order to Evraz for closure of the Novokuznetsk plant’s polluting water treatment plant. Oleg Mitvol, who was at the time deputy head of Rosprirodnadzor, told CRU Steel News on December 14 of the same year that his agency had agreed that, in return for rescinding the order to close the old water-treatment plant and halt steel production at Novokuznetsk, Evraz had agreed to invest Rb2.4 billion ($92 million at the time, now $77 million) in new treatment and anti-pollution facilities at Novokuznetsk, as well as at Zapsib, the second of Evraz’s steel mills in the same city. “It is an unprecedented decision and we are very happy to reach it,” Mitvol added.

At the time, the enforcement of environmental controls against a major Russian industrial group was unprecedented, according to industry sources. This year Evraz spokesman Alex Agureyev did not confirm that the waste-water treatment plant project has been built yet. He declined to say what plan for waste-water treatment at Novokuznetsk Evraz is considering.

There has also been industry speculation that Evraz’s vanadium mining and processing company in the US, Stratcor, is facing potential liability for ground and sub-surface contamination stemming from vanadium mining operations in the past, before Evraz took over. The statute applying liability to US mine companies is the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which is under the administration of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Evraz says it cannot comment on the liability issue.

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