City’s Rivers Top Pollution Rankings
Published: June 8, 2010 (Issue # 1580)
St. Petersburg has the most polluted rivers of the Volga-Baltic waterways, according to the results of a research expedition carried out by the international environmental pressure group Greenpeace on the Beluga II ship along one of Russia’s key waterways.
The aim of the expedition was to determine pollution levels in Russian rivers. The findings were published Monday.
“Mercury and oil products are being dumped freely into local waters, which are badly swamped with copper and other heavy metals as well as other toxic pollutants,” said Dmitry Artamonov, head of the St. Petersburg branch of Greenpeace.
“In some of the water samples taken from the Slavyanka River, for example, the concentration of copper exceeds the norm by 22 times, and the levels of mercury are six times above the norm.”
In May, the ecologists took water samples from the Neva River and other local rivers and canals before the ship moved on to Moscow and further along the route. During the course of its one-month journey, Beluga II covered almost 5,000 kilometers of one of Russia’s major waterways.
“With this expedition we wanted to establish the level of pollution in some of the country’s most important rivers; now we are seeking to publicize the results with an eye to persuading regional authorities to enforce a stronger punishment for the illegal discharge of industrial waste into rivers,” said Artamonov. “Also, a ban must be introduced by the authorities which would make it impossible for companies to dump their industrial waste into sewage channels. Sewage treatment facilities are not equipped to cope with industrial waste.”
According to a recent investigation by Greenpeace, large numbers of local companies try to get away with dumping their waste in the sewage channels.
“The issue here is that the city’s water treatment facilities were originally designed to deal with sewage, so all the chemicals automatically end up in local waters,” explains Alexei Kiselyev, head of Greenpeace’s toxic research program. “This dangerous practice has to be stopped as soon as possible.”
Ecologists say the low level of social responsibility in Russia is the direct result of the general inertia and individualism that reigns in Russian society today.
“Most people do not show the slightest interest in things that damage the environment, unless they are directly affected by the consequences,” said Artamonov.
Water pollution has remained a major concern in St. Petersburg since Soviet times. Unlike in most European cities, tap water is not drinkable.
With several water-treatment plants operating in the city, 40 percent of the sewage and industrial waste originating in the city — the highest level in the past 15 years — goes directly into the River Neva and the Gulf of Finland, owing to a shortage of waste treatment facilities, according to City Hall’s statistics. That figure does not include illegal discharges.
Fines for illegal discharges have little or no impact on the problem, as the amounts payable are too small to make a difference to companies. Critics say fines need to be increased drastically, and economic sanctions must be taken against companies that breach environmental standards.