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электронный журнал "Новые исследования Тувы"

Tuva among Five Least Polluted Regions in Russia

St. Petersburg placed 85th out of the country’s 89 regions in a newly released rating by the Russian Independent Environmental Monitoring Agency. To award a position in the rating, the experts assessed a range of factors affecting the state of the environment, including air and water pollution, changing ecosystems, the production and treatment of industrial waste, environmental protection efforts, accountability by local business communities and the endangered status and extinction of animal species.

City Hall’s continued lack of attention to environmental problems and its aloof, hands-off attitude have become an additional negative factor in St. Petersburg, the agency said.

Dmitry Artamonov, head of the St. Petersburg branch of the international pressure group Greenpeace, said City Hall does not simply turn a blind eye to the city’s environmental plight, but vigorously pushes forward with dangerous construction and industrial projects which, if implemented in the intended form, further exacerbate the state of the local environment.

“The massive land reclamation project on Vasilyevsky Island is particularly dangerous and it looks set to ruin the already damaged ecosystem of the Gulf of Finland,” Artamonov said.

“Turbid spots formed by the masses of highly contaminated deposits rising to the surface now stretch for many kilometers. The works have already led to the mass destruction of living sea organisms and, if continued as before, could potentially turn the Neva Bay into a stagnant body of water.”

Ecologists argue that the construction of garbage incinerators — advertized by City Hall as a progressive campaign — will greatly contribute to air pollution in town.

“Not only is incineration expensive — rest assured that the fee will be incorporated into every resident’s monthly utilities bill — but it is also hazardous,” Artamonov said.

“Toxic waste is not separated from the non-toxic trash and everything is burnt together. This means the process results in vast amounts of super-toxic dioxin emissions.”

The nearby Leningrad Oblast enjoys 69th place in the rating, thanks to better air quality and the condition of ecosystems and animal life.

Kamchatka in Russia’s Far East tops the rating, followed by the Republic of Adygea in the Krasnodar Krai, the Republic of Tuva, the Buryat Republic and the Irkutsk region in Siberia.

The bottom four positions in the rating after St. Petersburg were assigned to the Stavropol region in southwest Russia, the Tula region 200 kilometers south of Moscow, the Orenburg region in the Volga federal district and lastly, the Penza region, also in the Volga federal district.

Among St. Petersburg’s black marks is the fact that spent nuclear fuel destined for reprocessing and storage in Siberia is transported from abroad via the city.

Environmentalists argue that the safety of nuclear transportation in Russia leaves much to be desired, with inadequate guarding and monitoring.

Water pollution has remained a major concern in St. Petersburg since the Soviet years. Unlike in most European cities, tap water is not drinkable. Before 1978, the city had no water-treatment facilities at all.

However, with several water-treatment plants operating in town, according to St. Petersburg City Hall’s annual report for 2007, 40 percent of the sewage and industrial waste originating in the city — the highest level in the past 15 years — went directly into the River Neva and the Gulf of Finland, owing to a shortage of waste treatment facilities. That figure does not include illegal discharges.

Three years ago city authorities said only 25 percent of untreated waste was being pumped into the river.

Ecologists stress that since 2000, the amount of unauthorized industrial discharge has grown despite the fact that such practices are illegal and could lead to the temporary suspension of all operations by the company responsible.

Fines for illegal discharges have little or no impact on the problem.

“Companies prefer to pay fines of anything between 20,000 and 40,000 rubles ($810 to $1,600) rather than install expensive filtration systems,” said Vera Izmailova, spokeswoman for Vodokanal, the St. Petersburg administration’s water-treatment monopoly. “Fines need to be increased drastically and economic sanctions must be used against companies that breach environmental standards.”

In January, Vodokanal itself was fined 40,000 rubles by the local branch of State Environmental Protection Watch, a regulatory body, after it discovered illegal discharges of uncertain origin in the Okhta River, a tributary of the Neva.

The agency was called in after Vodokanal had been unable to pinpoint the source of the discharges.

But the watchdog is regarded by environmental campaigners as virtually toothless.

The head of its St. Petersburg branch, Sergei Yermolov, said his office has only four inspectors and no legal right to initiate an inspection.

“An inspection can only be prompted by an official report about a discharge. We’re not allowed to just show up at a factory and demand that they install a filtration system,” Yermolov said.

Olga Tsepilova, a member of the environmental wing of the liberal party Yabloko, said public awareness about environmental issues remains low, and that officials downplay levels of contaminants in waterways.

“Environmental threats are multiplying as we speak,” Tsepilova said. «Rampant in-fill construction that has flourished under [St. Petersburg governor] Valentina Matviyenko has led to the devastating loss of hundreds of small parks and public gardens.”

For several years, local environmentalists have asked Matviyenko to go with them on one of their water patrols, but they say she has yet to accept such an invitation.

Matviyenko has never publicly conceded that the scale of the problem is as great as the environmentalists claim. Indeed her speeches on the subject since she took office in 2004 have been optimistic.

“St. Petersburg strives to reach European standards in all spheres of life, and with regard to ecology we are very close to our goal,” Matviyenko told reporters in 2007 during the inauguration of an industrial waste incinerator.

The St. Petersburg Times
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