For the first time, three so-called “hot spots” (extremely polluted areas) have been removed from a list of 42 hot spots in northwest Russia. This conclusion was reached in November, when Sweden handed over the chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council to Finland. However, 39 extremely polluted areas remain on the list of hot spots, all in the Russian Barents region. Sameradion visited two of them in the Kola Peninsula: Monchegorsk and Murmansk.
Some progress in Murmansk
Murmansk, a city of around 310,000 residents, is located on the Kola Bay, just a few miles south of the Barents Sea coast. Here, vast quantities of polluted waste water are released into the nearby Kola Bay. Seventy percent of wastewater is completely untreated when it is flushed into the bay.
The wastewater treatment system will be modernized in a project financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Nordic Environment Finance Corp. (NEFCO) and with Russian money from the local water treatment plant, Vodokanal.
Two water-treatment districts will be joined together and new water mains will replace the old ones. The project will be completed within five years, at which point 25 percent less polluted waste water will be released into the fjord.
The figure will be down to zero by 2015 and by then, the third water treatment district will also be able to purify waste water before it is released into the fjord, as ruled by a local court in late 2011.
Residents turn to spring water
Many residents of Murmansk do what Dr. Alexander Larionov does. On weekends, he drives to a spring located 40-50 kilometers outside of the city and fills several water jugs with fresh, clean spring water.
“We boil the water from the faucet in the kitchen at home before drinking it, because it doesn’t look clean,” he says, filling his water jug with spring water from a faucet at the spring. The family uses the spring water primarily for tea.
But many modernizations have recently been made in Murmansk, according to Mikhail Egorin, head of the local water company Vodokanal.
The water company’s environmental director, Irina Verestehagina, says it has been good for the Russians to receive a push in the right direction from their Swedish partners. The water purification problem will be completely solved just in time for the city’s 100-year anniversary in 2016.
“Hopefully by then, the Kola Bay will be less polluted,” says Mikhail Egorin.
Monchegorsk: ‘The Metallurgy City’
Monchegorsk is located several miles south of Murmansk in the middle of the Kola Peninsula. Emissions from mines and smelting plants pollute the city’s air and water, but visitors are welcomed by a sign reading “Monchegorsk – Metallurgy City”. It is beautifully situated in a long valley surrounded by mountains.
An enormous factory area in the outskirts of the city releases massive amounts of lead, heavy metals and sulfur dioxide into the air. Bellona, the Norwegian environmental organization, estimates the sulfur dioxide emissions to be five times greater than the sulfur dioxide emissions of all of Norway’s industries combined.
The population has long been plagued with lung and skin diseases believed to be caused by the emissions. Factory workers are diagnosed with cancer three times more often than nonfactory workers and have a lower average length of life.