Poisons Flooding River Neva

Fish from the River Neva contain high concentrations of poisonous substances, including arsenic and polychlorobiphenyl, one of the 12 most dangerous organic pollutants, according to recent research carried out by the international environmental pressure group Greenpeace.

The research also revealed that the levels of copper in the city’s main waterway exceeded the norm by 73 times, and levels of manganese by 26 times.

Dmitry Artamonov, head of the St. Petersburg branch of Greenpeace, said that the level of public awareness about environmental issues and, in particular, water pollution, remains low as pollution in the waterways of the Neva Delta worsens.

Greenpeace is this week launching a monitoring and awareness program that would involve sending its own patrol boat along the Neva with crews taking water samples, documenting illegal discharge sites and publicizing the results among city residents.

According to a City Hall annual report, in 2006, 40 percent of untreated sewage and industrial waste in St. Petersburg ­ the highest level during the past 15 years ­ was being pumped directly into the Neva and the Finnish Gulf owing to a shortage in waste treatment facilities. The figure does not include numerous illegal discharges.

By comparison, in 2005, City Hall claimed that only 25 percent of waste was being pumped into the river without treatment.

“If growing amounts of sewage thrown into the Neva can be explained by the ongoing reconstruction of water supply systems, then the likeliest reason behind growing volumes of industrial waste is corruption,” Artamonov said. “Since 2000, the amount of unauthorized industrial discharge has grown despite the fact that this is illegal, and could lead to the temporary suspension of all operations by the company responsible ­ until they stop or install a proper filtration system.”

Alexei Kiselyov, head of Greenpeace’s toxicology program said that if the fish the activists found in the Neva ­ with all the contaminants in it ­ had been caught in the European Union, its sale for human consumption would be immediately stopped.

Fish from the river is regularly sold in city markets.

“A major problem in Russia is that the norms of the concentration of chemicals, heavy metals and other poisonous substances have not been revised in the country for many years,” he said.

“These norms are too high and do not reflect the results of new research in toxicology.”

City Hall says there are currently 375 drains channeling untreated industrial discharge within the city limits, and more than 1,000 sewage dumping points. Most of these are located in tributaries of the Neva. The River Okhta is the most polluted.

Before 1978, the city had no water-treatment facilities at all. There are now two water-treatment centers maintained by Vodokanal, the city’s water and sewage-treatment monopoly.

When the Southwest Water-Treatment Plant, which was inaugurated in Sept. 2005 by President Vladimir Putin, Finnish President Tarja Halonen and former Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson with $36 million in foreign investment, started operating, Vodokanal officials claimed that with the new facility would filter out 85 percent of the city’s waste.

Vodokanal has long been fiercely criticized by local environmental groups for not punishing companies that illegally discharge pollutants into local waters, and for not working to build more water-treatment facilities.

“We could observe those ugly oily spots in the Neva River for weeks, and Vodokanal would do nothing,” Artamonov said.

“Ordinary people don’t seem to have a proper idea of how polluted the Neva is ­ they swim and fish there carelessly in dirty water, just meters from discharge sites, and they do not react when we try to show them those ugly fluorescent streams of waste bubbling in the water next to their fishing lines,” he said. “Our efforts are not enough to raise public awareness and concern to the necessary level in such a big city.”

Each year, with the arrival of summer, more than a third of the beaches in and around St. Petersburg are declared contaminated and unsuitable for use by the St. Petersburg Center for Epidemic Control. The popular beach by the Peter and Paul Fortress has been on the blacklist for many years.

Results of the Greenpeace monitoring and photographs of illegal discharge locations can be found at http://www.saveneva.ru/

By Galina Stolyarova Staff Writer

St. Petersburg Times June 26, 2007 

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