TiO2 Plant Blamed for Town Evacuation
A titanium dioxide plant is being blamed for a sulfur dioxide release that has led to the evacuation of children from a town in northern Crimea last week.
According to reports, the noxious gas was first noticed in the town of Armyansk on Aug. 24 but the Russian government, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, did not begin evacuations until Sept. 4. Children from the town are reportedly being evacuated to areas to the south for at least a two-week period; adults are being told to stay inside as much as possible.
The source of the pollution is believed to be a 16-square-mile reservoir where sulfuric acid is dumped as part of the operations of the Titan plant, a major source of titanium dioxide for industry in Eastern Europe. According to media reports, the reservoir is normally diluted with rainwater flowing in from a canal, but Ukrainian officials stopped the flow of the canal, causing the acid to build up and evaporate off. The region has been experiencing a particularly hot, dry summer.
Titanium dioxide is used in the formulation of coatings as well as other products such as sunscreens; it is used as a pigment to lend whiteness to paints. According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, sulfuric acid is used in the production of titanium dioxide from ilmenite, an iron-titanium oxide matirial. The RSC notes that the process produces "copious amounts of acidic waste."
About the Plant
The BBC reports that the Titan plant is 34 years old and, while one of the major suppliers of TiO2 to industry in the region, the company has been in poor financial shape of late. Titan has reportedly suspended operations in the wake of the release.
In addition to the noxious odor of sulfur dioxide, residents have complained of a yellow, greasy coating that has formed on much of the town, from cars and homes to plants and trees. Hospitals are reportedly caring for patients with breathing problems and burns stemming from the sulfur dioxide.
The TiO2 Landscape
Titan is not listed as a member of the Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association. That trade group represents some of the largest TiO2 manufacturers worldwide and promotes the safety of TiO2 in consumer good and in the manufacturing process; it includes U.S.-based Tronox and Saudi firm Cristal, as well as Venator, the firm spun off of American chemical company Huntsman last year.
Tronox and Cristal are currently in the process of merging, pending approval from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.