Environmental Board opens criminal proceedings over Suur-Sõjamäe blaze

Aftermath of the waste disposal site blaze on Suur-Sõjamäe in Tallinn.
Aftermath of the waste disposal site blaze on Suur-Sõjamäe in Tallinn. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Environmental Board (Keskkonnaamet) has opened criminal proceedings in order to investigate levels of pollution arising from a major fire which broke out at a Tallinn waste storage site on Tuesday.

The fire started Tuesday at a waste disposal facility on Suur-Sõjamäe, a major thoroughfare.

The road runs adjacent to Tallinn Airport and the nearby Ülemiste Technopolis development, not to mention being close to Ülemiste järv, through which the bulk of the city's drinking water flows.

The conflagration led to a cocktail of potentially toxic substances being released into the city's air.

Light breezes blew the plume of smoke in the direction of residential areas, it is reported.

The greatest direct impact on public health came during the initial phase of the conflagration, which started Tuesday afternoon, and in those areas where the highest concentrations of pollutants were released into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile the Health Board (Terviseamet) reports "a few" patients having presented at hospital complaining of dizziness and a general malaise.

The company operating the facility has been named by portal Delfi as Epler & Lorenz, while a firefighter also told Delfi that "the entire periodic table of elements" was represented in the ensuing pollution (both links in Estonian).

Tarmo Tehva, head of the Environmental Board's Harju County office, said: "As of now, the company has already started the clean-up operation," adding that a company representative had agreed to be responsible for eliminating the resultant pollution.

"The Environmental Board inspectors are monitoring the situation on-site, and taking analysis, samples and other things, from the water used in the extinguishing process. The answers to the analysis are not yet known," Tehva said.

Tehva had said earlier on Wednesday that the fumes released by the fire at Suur-Sõjamäe "do not pose a direct threat to human health."

A source told ERR News they had received an SMS text message at around 3.30 a.m. Wednesday, inorming them to stay indoors and to keep windows closed. The Rescue Board (Päästeamet) also informed ERR's news in Estonian how this system worked (residents within a 3km radius of the fire received the notifications).

Criminal proceedings have been initiated under Section 365 of the Penal Code, which deals with negligent pollution of the environment, while the investigation is being conducted by the Environmental Board and managed by the Prosecutor's Office, Northern District.

An environmental research center (Keskkonnauuringute keskus) vehicle came to the Suur-Sõjamäe area and will continue to monitor air quality every two hours, with the results to be revealed by Wednesday evening on the ohuseire.ee page (link in Estonian).

The plume of smoke emanating from the fire attracted plenty of social media interest and speculation, not least as it came just one day after another large blaze, at a warehouse in Maardu, less than 15km from the Suur-Sõjamäe site. Local residents were also urged to "take precautions" in that case.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

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