As revealed by the Blacksmith Institute (hat tip to Vilhelm Konnander), the map above shows red dots for the ten most polluted places on the planet. Seven out of them are closely affiliated with Russia, and three out of ten are actually in Russia itself. Two more are in former Soviet republics, resulting from pollution directly caused by Russian imperialism. In other words, half of the world’s most serious pollution sites were created by Russian behavior.
Within Russia itself, first there’s Dzerzinsk. The report states:
In Dzerzhinsk, a significant center of the Russian chemical manufacturing, the average life expectancy is 42 years for men and 47 for women. Until the end of the Cold War, the city was among Russia’s principal production sites of chemical weapons. According to figures from Dzerzhinsk’s environmental agency, from 1930-1998, almost 300,000 tons of chemical waste were improperly disposed of. Of this waste, around 190 separate chemicals were released into the groundwater. These chemicals have turned the water into a white sludge containing dioxins and high levels of phenol – an industrial chemical which can lead to acute poisoning and death. These levels are reportedly 17 million times the safe limit. The city draws its drinking water from the same aquifers into which these old wastes and unused products were pumped. Now that many of these industries are no longer in operation, the local groundwater has risen, along with the water level in the canal. This rise in the canal’s water level threatens to dump arsenic, mercury, lead and dioxins into the Oka river basin, a source of drinking water for the nearby city of Nizhny Novgorod. Despite the heavy toll on the population’s health, a quarter of the city’s 300,000 residents are still employed in factories that turn out toxic chemicals. According to a 2003 BBC report it is the young who are most vulnerable. In the local cemetery, there are a shocking number of graves of people below the age of 40. In 2003 it was reported that the death rate exceeded the birth rate by 2.6 times and it is easy to see why. The dioxins that get into the water as a by-product of chlorine production are reported to cause cancer even in minute doses.
Next comes Norilsk. The report reveals:
An industrial city founded in 1935 as a slave labor camp, the Siberian city of Norilsk, Russia is the northernmost major city of Russia and the second largest city (after Murmansk) above the Arctic Circle. According to the Mines and Communities website the city is considered one of the most polluted places in Russia – where the snow is black, the air tastes of sulfur and the life expectancy for factory workers is 10 years below the Russian average. This city houses the world’s largest heavy metals smelting complex, and over 4 million tons annually of cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, arsenic, selenium and zinc are dispersed into the air. Mining and smelting operation started in the 1930s, and is the worlds largest nickel producer. Norilsk Nickel, a recently privatized firm, is one of Russia’s leading producers of non-ferrous and platinum-group metals. It controls one-third of the world’s nickel deposits and accounts for a substantial portion of the country’s total production of nickel, cobalt,platinum, and palladium. It is also a major polluter, ranking first among Russian industrial enterprises in terms of air pollution. Due to the geographic location, reports on ecological impacts and contamination are infrequent from this location. In 1999, a report found elevated copper and nickel concentrations in soils up to a 60 km radius. The city population has been affected by air quality in this region of smelters, where it has been shown over half of all samples exceed the maximum allowable concentrations for both copper and nickel. A report in 1995 indicated that high levels of respiratory diseases have been observed in children around this area, and that these are most likely related to the air pollution from the smelter activity. Investigations evaluating the presence of ear, nose and throat disease among schoolchildren revealed that children living near the copper plant were twice as likely to become ill than those living in further districts. Similarly, children living near the nickel plant were shown to become ill at a rate 1.5 times higher than children from further districts. Analysis also showed that problems during the last half of pregnancy as well as premature births were much more frequent in Norilsk than in the Taimyr and Kransnoyark regions. Furthermore, mortality from respiratory diseases is considerably higher than the average in Russia, which is 28/1000 or 15.8% of all deaths among children. Since November 2001, Norilsk has been shut to foreigners, one of 90 “closed towns” in Russia where Soviet-levels of secrecy persist.
Finally there is Dalnegorsk. The report reveals:
Dalnegorsk and Rudnaya Pristan are two towns in the Russian Far East whose residents suffer from serious lead poisoning from an old smelter and the unsafe transport of lead concentrate from the local lead mining site. According to the most recent study, lead concentrations in residential gardens (476-4310 mg/kg, Gmean=1626 mg/kg) and in roadside soils (2020-22900 mg/kg, Gmean=4420 mg/kg) exceed USEPA guidance for remediation by orders of magnitude. These data suggest that drinking water, interior dust, and garden crops also likely contain
dangerous levels of lead. Water discharged from the smelter averages 2900 m3/daywith concentrations up to 100 kg of lead and 20 kg arsenic. Limited initial testing has revealed that children’s blood lead levels are 8 to 20 times the maximum allowable U.S. levels. Preliminary biokinetic estimates of mean blood levels suggest that preschool children are at significant risk of lead poisoning from soil/dust ingestion with levels predicted to average 13-27 microg/dl. Annual air emissions found 85 tons of particulate matter with lead and arsenic concentrations being 50 and 0.5 tons, respectively. Since 1930 there has not been any attempt to address associated health concerns by either an educational or a technical environmental program. In fact, as Sharov points out, the residents of the area were simply left to deal with their health risk problems on their own and are largely unaware of the risks. Furthermore, some residents in Rudnaya use old casings of submarine batteries that were recycled by the smelter in order to collect precipitation for watering their gardens.
So, Russia has less than 3% of the world’s population but 30% of its most toxic living evnironments. This is the legacy of the USSR being continued by proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin. Beyond these three major Russian sites are to be added the infamous Chernobyl in Ukraine, still toxic two decades after its nuclear plant meltdown (which the Russian government at first failed even to acknowledge) and Mailuu-Suu in Kyrgyzstan, another site contaminated by Soviet-sponsored radiation.
What’s even more shocking about this data than its direct impact on human life, which is catastrophic, is that not only does Russia lack any significant domestic environmental movement but it is in the process of totallly destroying its network of foreign non-governmental organizations working to correct these problems at no cost to Russia. Last week, Russia invoked its new anti-NGO statute to shut down virtually every such group within its borders. Under this action, neither Greenpeace nor Blacksmith will be able to continue gathering data in Russia, leaving Russians totally blind as this insidious killer continues to poison them, just as in Soviet times. The inevitable result is that Russia will collapse just as the USSR did.