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Russian Mining Giant Admits to Polluting the Arctic With Wastewater

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Russian Mining Giant Admits to Polluting the Arctic With Wastewater
An aerial view shows the pollution in a river outside Norilsk, Russia following an oil spill, on June 6, 2020. IRINA YARINSKAYA / AFP via Getty Images

Russia's Norilsk Nickel ran into trouble earlier this month when one of its subsidiaries accidentally spilled 21,000 tons of diesel that ended up polluting a pristine Arctic lake. Now the company admits that it has been dumping wastewater into the Arctic tundra, as Agence-France Press, (AFP) reported.


The metallurgical giant said on Sunday that it had taken steps to suspend the workers who dumped the wastewater, saying that their actions were in "flagrant violation of operating rules," according to AFP.

Independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta published videos from the scene showing large metal pipes carrying wastewater from the reservoir and dumping foaming liquid among nearby trees.

The company issued the statement just hours after the Novaya Gazeta video surfaced that showed water tainted with heavy metals from the tailings at a nickel-processing plant were being pumped into a river, according to The Associated Press.

As Deutsche-Welle reported, when investigators arrived at the scene, the pipes were "hastily" removed, and a car that had delivered officials to the scene was partly squashed by a heavy earthmoving machine. Nobody was injured in the accident that crushed part of the car.

Before the time when investigators arrived, 6,000 cubic meters of liquid had been dumped over "several hours," reported the Russian news agency Interfax, according to Deutsche-Welle. It was impossible to tell how far the wastewater had dispersed.

The incident occurred at the Talnakh enrichment plant near the Arctic city of Norilsk, the company said, as Al-Jazeera reported. This incident is just one month after the unprecedented fuel leak led President Vladimir Putin to declare a state of emergency.

The journalists who investigated the area claimed the factory deliberately sent the wastewater into wildlife areas and then hastily removed their pipes when they caught wind of investigators and emergency services arrived on the scene. That hasty removal led to the accident that dropped machinery on an investigator's car, according to Al-Jazeera.

The Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said it had received reports of "unauthorized dumping of liquid waste into the tundra" on the site of the facility, and had opened an inquiry.

According to the AFP, Russia's natural resources agency said the decision to remove water from the reservoir was taken to avoid an emergency after heavy rains and recent tests had caused water levels to increase dramatically. The local emergency services in a statement said the wastewater was unlikely to reach the nearby Kharayelakh River.

A similar statement was made by Norilsk Nickel spokeswoman Tatiana Egorova who said on Sunday that employees at the factory had pumped out "clarified water" and that an internal investigation was under way.

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An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

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France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

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