Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Russia's Red River Another Sad Chapter for One of the Most Polluted Cities on Earth

Energy

Despite initially denying that there was anything wrong when the Daldykan River in Russia turned bright red virtually overnight, on Tuesday, Norilsk Nickel, the world's largest nickel manufacturer, has admitted responsibility. But for the Siberian city of Norilsk, it's just another sad chapter in its history.

Nickel manufacturing in Norilsk generates millions of tons of air pollution.Gelio / LiveJournal

The city of 175,000, which was founded in 1935 as a slave labor camp, was named one of the world's most polluted places on Earth by the Blacksmith Institute. WikiTravel advises potential visitors that "a substantial stay could jeopardize your health."

Norilsk owes its unfortunate accolade and its economy to some of the largest deposits of nickel on Earth. Mining began in the 1930s, and by 1953 was producing 35 percent of the Soviet Union's total nickel output, 12 percent of its copper, 30 percent of its cobalt and 90 percent of its platinum group metals. Today, it produces 20 percent of the world's nickel and 50 percent of its palladium.

Norilsk Nickel's 1942 Plant, named for the year it began operations, produced about 120,000 metric tons (132,000 U.S. tons) a year. The plant was decommissioned on Aug. 26.

The company, headquartered in Moscow, which recently rebranded itself as Nornickel, issued a statement Monday attributing the Daldykan River event to abnormally heavy rains in the region that caused a dam containing tailings to overflow.

"Short-term river color staining with iron salts presents no hazards for people and river fauna," the statement declares.

Others are not so sure. Greenpeace Russia spokesman Alexei Kiselyov told Agency France-Presse (AFP), "You can't just say that it's no big deal." He noted that the remote area made any investigation more difficult and that the company controls access to the area. The Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has opened an investigation.

Indigenous people in the area accuse the company of weak safety standards. They are concerned about the effects of the spill downstream, where they fish in another river.

The now-shuttered plant was responsible for more than 4 million tons of cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, arsenic, selenium and zinc released into the atmosphere every year. The effects of decades of pollution are stark. Vegetation can't grow within a 20-mile radius. Acid rain covers an area the size of Germany. Heavy metal pollution is so great that the soil itself can be mined.

"Life expectancy is 10 years less than in other regions of Russia, the risk of cancer is two times higher and respiratory diseases are widespread," reports the Daily Mail. The city's polluted air may be responsible for 37 percent of child deaths and 21.6 percent of adult mortality.

Norilsk Nickel has a history of environmental problems, including a 2014 discharge of 145,000 pounds of nickel and other contaminants into the Kokemäki River in Finland. Finnish officials detected cobalt, copper, lead and cadmium. Mussels in the Kokemäki River died, and the chief executive officer of the Harjavalta Norilsk Nickel plant admitted that they were probably due to the company's actions.

For its part, the company insists that environmental responsibility is a priority, with a strategic plan in place since 2005.

In its 2015 annual report, Norilsk Nickel states, "The company has also put in place an integrated environmental reporting system embracing all of the group's operations and monitoring the achievement of environmental objectives." It says that wastewater charges "have been consistently reduced" and 99 percent of the company's wastes are classified as non-hazardous.

Norilsk Nickel also says that the shutdown of the 1942 Plant will remove 600 sources of air pollutants and cites the action as part of its environmental program. But more than seven decades of pollution and toxic waste have taken a toll on the environment and health of the Siberian community, which won't easily be restored.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A woman lies in bed with the flu. marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A central player in the fight against the novel coronavirus is our immune system. It protects us against the invader and can even be helpful for its therapy. But sometimes it can turn against us.

Read More Show Less
Several flower species, including the orchid, can recover quickly from severe injury, scientists have found. cunfek / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Calling someone a delicate flower may not sting like it used to, according to new research. Scientists have found that many delicate flowers are actually remarkably hearty and able to bounce back from severe injury.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A Boeing 727 flies over approach lights with a trail of black-smoke from the engines on April 9, 2018. aviation-images.com / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

With global air travel at a near standstill, the airline industry is looking to rewrite the rules it agreed to tackle global emissions. The Guardian reports that the airline is billing it as a matter of survival, while environmental activists are accusing the industry of trying to dodge their obligations.

Read More Show Less
A National Guard member works on election day at a polling location on April 7, 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin. Andy Manis / Getty Images.

ByJulia Baumel

The outbreak of COVID-19 across the U.S. has touched every facet of our society, and our democracy has been no exception.

Read More Show Less
A building damaged by Cyclone Harold in Vanuatu on April 7, 2020. It has since moved on to Fiji. PHILIPPE CARILLO / AFP via Getty Images

After flattening buildings and cutting communications on the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu Monday and Tuesday, Cyclone Harold moved on to batter Fiji Wednesday.

Read More Show Less