Category Archives: pollution

Poisoning and Coverup in Sunny Tuapse

The Moscow Times reports:

A toxic fertilizer spill has caused unprecedented protests in Tuapse, which is located 110 kilometers north of Sochi, pictured in this file photo. Sochi and neighboring areas will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

A toxic fertilizer spill in Tuapse, Krasnodar region, has sparked unprecedented protests in the small seaside town, with locals venting their rage at development that they say is putting their lives and health in danger.

About 3,000 residents of Tuapse, located just 110 kilometers north of Sochi, which will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, rallied in protest on Saturday. They called for a fertilizer shipping terminal, owned by fertilizer giant EuroChem, to be shut down.

In March, a spill at the centrally located terminal, which is still not officially operational, blanketed the town in fertilizer dust, leading to a spike in respiratory problems throughout the town, locals said.

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Russians desperate for Toilet Paper: Won’t you help?

Paul Goble reports:

In the latest test of the old notion that those in power can survive almost anything except being laughed at, environmental activists in Moscow and St. Petersburg plan to collect toilet paper for Vladimir Putin since he apparently feels Russia has too little of it and is prepared to allow Lake Baikal to be contaminated in order to produce more.

On March 27th “For Baikal,” a coalition of Russian public organizations that seek to defend that environmental wonder from being contaminated by the restarting of the Baikalsk paper mill on its shores, staged demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg to call attention to this issue.

The demands the group raised were not new. They seek to prevent the Baikalsk plant from sending waste products into Lake Baikal, to find alternative jobs for any workers displaced if the plant is closed permanently, and to prevent the burial of nuclear wastes in the region under the terms of a plan approved by Putin earlier this year. But in order to attract attention to their demands, organizers are calling on all those who will take back to bring not only “a good attitude” and posters or banners in defense of Lake Baikal but also “a roll of toilet paper” because Putin and his regime have suggested that the Baikalsk plant must be allowed to operate because Russia lacks enough of that essential product.

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Toxic Russia, Destroying itself and the World

The United Nations and the IOC are both condemning Russia’s appalling environmental butchery of the Sochi region as it is raped in preparation for the Olympics.  Paul Goble reports:

Thursday, Russia’s Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak appealed to ecologists “not to block” the construction of facilities for the Sochi Olympic Games now planned for 2014, the latest indication of the way in which Moscow has found itself under pressure from environmental activists.

Kozak told a session of the inter-agency commission preparing for the games that UN experts had not found “major ecological problems” in their study of the environment around Sochi and that Russian ecologists should accept their conclusions rather than take steps to prevent construction from going forward

As Kommersant reported, environmentalists were not impressed by Kozak’s remarks. Igor Chestin, director of the World Wildlife Fund of Russia, said that he “does not understand how Russian ecologists can ‘block’ the Olympic project; we simply don’t have such power.”

But the situation in Sochi is a matter of deep concern, he continued, because “the ecology of the region has already suffered and now one can talk only about minimizing harm,” given that the government’s current approach, if it continues unchanged “will lead to a catastrophe with human victims.”

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Putin Gives Russia an Environmental Nightmare

Reuters reports:

Pesticides still poison people in the ex-Soviet Union almost two decades after the fall of the Communist superpower when farm managers liberally sprayed chemicals over fields, an environmentalist said in an interview.

Olga Speranskaya — who won an international award last week for her push to clean up the Soviet Union’s toxic legacy — also said the global economic crisis had diverted cash from cleaning up chemical waste, including from Soviet-era factories. “There is a lot of concern about toxic contamination. It’s getting worse and especially because of this financial crisis,” she told Reuters by telephone. “Our governments show a lack of political will to tackle chemical contamination and now they have one more excuse because of the financial crisis.”

Russia’s ecology ministry declined to comment.

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Toxic Russia

Russian reporter Anastasia Ustinova reports in the San Fransisco Chronicle on Russia’s catastrophic envirnmental nightmare and courageous Russian who dares to demand better from the Kremlin:

The residents of Chapaevsk, a city in Central Russia, say the lakes near local chemical factories are dead from toxic waste, no longer freeze and contaminate the town’s water supply.

In the western Russian city of Dzerdjinsk, the mortality rate of children and adolescents is 50 percent higher than the national average because of pollution from chemical plants. The city is one of the world’s 10 most-polluted places, according to the Blacksmith Institute, a consulting firm in New York.

Such environmental disasters are well-known thanks to Olga Speranskaya, a petite, 46-year-old physicist who is the driving force behind a nongovernmental group that works to identify, reduce and safely store chemical stockpiles in Russia and the republics of the former Soviet Union. For her tireless work, she is being honored with the Goldman Environmental Prize.

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Annals of Russia’s Nuclear Nightmare

Thinking of visiting Moscow, or even moving there? Best think again, my friend, best think again. The Moscow Times reports:

What many children in a densely populated eastern Moscow suburb used to think of as a good little hill to play and toboggan on has turned out to be a radioactive waste dump — one that local residents and ecologists say could spill over and contaminate a larger area.

The radiation-emitting dump on Bulvar Marshala Rokossovskogo, which was unearthed during incomplete cleanup works, poses a danger to Muscovites, said Vladimir Chuprov, head of Greenpeace Russia’s Energy Unit. He said the works, suspended half a year ago, were not done properly, leaving the site in a potentially dangerous state.

“The bad news is that the water has flowed in,” Chuprov said. “This water might contain radioactive materials. Liquid is much more difficult to recover and keep from spreading.”

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Russia’s Toxic Rivers

The Chicago Tribune reports:

Igor Shopen jabbed a branch into the edge of the Volga River, a stone’s throw from the Saratov Oil Refinery’s rust-covered storage tanks. In a matter of seconds, black crude billowed from the riverbed like ink from a squid.

In the air, the scent of oil hung thick and heavy. Along the shore, piles of picnic trash dotted the beach. Tossing the stick onto the brown-black sand, Shopen’s voice quavered as he sized up the fate of a river long revered as a gateway into the soul of Russia.

“What we face here now is the question of ecological collapse—the question of life or death of the environment here,” said Shopen, a local environmentalist who as a boy spent his summers swimming in the Volga. “I am proud of this great river and I want it to remain great after I’m gone.”

The river that Russians call Mother Volga has been the country’s lifeblood for centuries, as beloved here as the Mississippi is in the U.S.

Today, however, segments of the Volga serve as little more than ashcans for riverside factories that are pushing the river toward the brink of environmental ruin. Russian scientists estimate that a third of the country’s wastewater gets dumped into the Volga basin, and much of that water is poorly filtered.

“In recent years, industrial activity has been on the rise in Russia, and that’s very dangerous because the wastewater-cleaning facilities at industrial plants date back to Soviet times,” said Galina Chernogayeva, a scientist at the Institute for Global Climate and Ecology, which studies water pollution in Russia. “They need modernization.”

Legacy of ruin

Historically, Russia has never been a good guardian of its environment.

During the Cold War, large-scale radiation discharges at weapons manufacturing facilities in central Russia and Siberia were hushed up for years by Soviet authorities. Cancer rates have risen dramatically in villages along the Techa River in the Ural Mountains, not far from a plutonium plant that for decades secretly dumped more than 20 billion gallons of radioactive waste into the river. Along the Barents Sea and the country’s eastern Pacific coast, submarines containing nuclear fuel rust in ports, awaiting dismantling.

Under former President Vladimir Putin, the country rebounded on the back of booming oil prices but failed to steer any of that newfound wealth toward safeguarding the environment. Now, authorities say, Russia cannot afford to ignore the health of its waterways much longer.

Putin’s handpicked successor, President Dmitry Medvedev, said that if the country continues to neglect its environment, “in 10, 20 or 30 years we may find ourselves in a situation when part of the country’s territory will be unfit for living.”

“Environmental protection,” Medvedev told law students in St. Petersburg in June, “is a question of national security.”

Some of Russia’s most iconic bodies of water are also its most endangered. For 40 years, a paper mill in east Siberia has been dumping chlorine and other contaminants into Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake. Siberia’s Ob and Amur Rivers are also heavily polluted, scientists say.

Filth and hope

But it’s the Volga that may be the country’s most abused waterway.

Europe’s longest river, the 2,300-mile Volga begins in the Valdai Hills north of Moscow and meanders through the dense birch woodlands of central Russia before emptying into the Caspian Sea. During the Soviet era, the country’s military-industrial complex freely polluted the Volga for decades while it rushed to meet Moscow’s production quotas. In the name of industrialization, the river was dammed in places, creating large reservoirs that slowed water flow and allowed pollutants to accumulate.

The Volga can still be saved, environmentalists say, but time is running out. A pollution study released by Chernogayeva’s institute last year found that most of the water in the Volga basin could be characterized either as “contaminated” or “dirty,” a designation based on an analysis of the type and severity of pollution found in samples.

At the river’s delta near the city of Astrakhan, pollution from nearby factories and farms is causing algae blooms that rob fish stocks and the region’s wetland wildlife of oxygen, “dramatically affecting the ecosystem of the river there,” said Valentina Bryzgalo, chief researcher at the Hydrochemical Institute in Rostov-on-Don.

‘The refinery is so old’

Tributaries that feed into the Volga aggravate the river’s plight. The city of Chapayevsk on the Chapayevka River, a Volga tributary, is so polluted with dioxins and other contaminants that the mayor has proposed shutting down the city and resettling its 70,000 inhabitants.

In Saratov, a refinery has been polluting the Volga since it began operation in 1920, said Shopen, who heads the Saratov branch of Green Patrol, a Russian environmentalist group. Collection ponds just 50 yards from the river bank are coal-black with oil contamination.

“The problem is that the refinery is so old, and its condition is far from perfect,” Shopen says. “So some of the oil just seeps into the ground or collects in these ponds, and groundwater underneath carries the oil into the river.”

At a refinery outfall that empties into the river, the water is black and viscous. A small plastic barrier installed by the refinery’s owner, TNK-BP, helps contain the oil-contaminated water, but during spring rains, it overflows and streams toward the river, Shopen says. TNK-BP placed the boom there three weeks ago at Green Patrol’s urging; before, only a swatch of fabric was used to contain the oil.

Locals say the segment of the Volga that flows past Saratov used to teem with fish. Today, says Viktor Matarkulov, a 58-year-old railway worker, “there’s very little fish, and the fish we catch smells of oil. If we go on abusing the Volga like this, there won’t be any fish left at all.”

On a recent cloudless afternoon, Alexei Nefyodov, 17, and Dmitry Lesin, 15, did backflips off of a pile of old tires stacked in the water. When they were done, they said they would do what they always do—head home and shower off the film of oil.

“All of the oil here worries us,” shrugged Nefyodov as he toweled himself off. “But we’ve got no other place to swim.”