The Black Skies over Russia's Regions

The Black Skies over Russia's Regions

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"Black sky mode" – this expression can often be heard in Russia’s major industrial cities. Usually it is set in frosty windless weather in winter. Sometimes during heatwaves in the summer. The Hydrometeorological Center has a special term for it -- "adverse weather conditions."

Primarily, they are “adverse” owing to the dispersal of harmful chemical compounds that factories, cogeneration plants and tens of thousands of cars release into the air. On such days, smog appears over a city, and many people complain about bad smell and breathing difficulties, while environmental experts record the excess of critical standards for the substances of this kind, such as benzopyrene, ethylbenzene, nitrogen oxide, dioxide, formaldehyde and suspended particles.

On days like these, in order to reduce the concentration level of toxicants in the air, special requirements are imposed on industrial facilities. Depending on the grade of adverse weather conditions, they must reduce emissions from 15-20% to 40-60%. In some critical cases, plants and factories are even expected to stop production completely. City dwellers are not recommended to use private transport, open windows and use respirators out in the street (however, the latter recommendation is not very popular among the people.)


Is Krasnoyarsk the Capital of the "Black Sky"?

Krasnoyarsk, the third-largest city in Siberia, is a denizen on the list of the most polluted cities in Russia. The world’s second largest aluminum plant and several large metallurgical enterprises are located there. In addition, Krasnoyarsk's industry has more sectors. It is no wonder that the "black sky mode" is declared quite often in the city -- on the average, about 50 times a year.

Is the emission control during the period of severe weather conditions of great help? The Krasnoyarsk residents claim that they barely feel the effect of those measures.

There are some attempts to bring the condition of the air to any standards only during major events such as the Universiade, the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum or the visit of Deputy Chairman of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev. However, short-term measures do not improve the environmental situation as a whole.

Local online game developers have even created an online game entitled ‘Dispel the Black Sky over Krasnoyarsk!’ "This is our response to the threat of ecological disaster in the once green Siberian city," their release said.

In 2017, the local government adopted a comprehensive plan aimed to reducing the emissions and improving the environment in Krasnoyarsk. Nevertheless, the project mainly contains supervisory and control measures. Especially in terms of industrial emissions. As for automobile emissions, the plan provides for restrictions on the use of automobile gasoline and diesel of ecological classes below K5 and the development of public transport. In addition, rules will be adopted for the greening of areas adjacent to public roads and inside courtyards.

Environmental expert Anatoly Batashev, chair of the ECOSILA 50 public organization and deputy CEO of the Austrian engineering company ECOCOM, commented on the situation specially for wek.ru:

"In each case, the "black sky" is caused by different reasons. There is a combination of factors leading to it in Krasnoyarsk: the city is located in the lowland, there are a lot of industrial enterprises, heated by coal, and a high evaporation from the water reservoir. The way out is simple: to build the subway, lay gas pipelines, build higher industrial pipes, put filters and reduce emissions. Omsk (a city in southwestern Siberia) needs a metro system, too. It is necessary to develop transport infrastructure and to build bridges there. All these measures require less investment than the “fraternal assistance” to Venezuela. We should look for financing and actively implement these projects."


Chelyabinsk

The "black sky mode" is declared in this city in the south of the Urals on a regular basis. Last time it happened at the end of January. It embraced not only the сity itself, but also some towns of the region such as Karabash, Korkino, Asha, Zlatoust and Satka. The previous occasion was 20 days before that. At that time, the city dwellers posted “spectacular” photos of their districts in a beautiful haze in the social nets. However, it is beautiful only for those who look at it on a computer. But it is hard to envy those who have to breathe in this chemical cocktail. 

There have been rallies and demonstrations in Chelyabinsk in order to support clean air. In particular, on January 25, the March of Residents took place. It gathered about 350 people together. It was planned that Natalia Kotova, the mayor of the city, would speak there. The day before, she held a meeting with environmental activists, which both sides considered quite effective. However, although Kotova visited the protest action, she refused to go up on stage. Three days later, an administrative case was opened against Andrey Kostenko who was one of the organizers of the March of Residents. He was charged with unauthorized use of sound-amplifying equipment and got a fine of 20,000 for this.

In addition, the environmental activists created a national controlling system in the city titled “Breathe, Chelyabinsk.” It is a network of indoor air quality sensors monitoring the state of the atmosphere and the amount of pollutants in it. Their data often differ from that which is covered in official reports. Particularly, when the adverse weather conditions were announced over the city in the past, the authorities reported that the emission standards were not exceeded, but independent air-quality monitors showed that it was not true.


Novokuznetsk

Novokuznetsk, a city in south-western Siberia, is one of Russia's largest coal mining and metallurgical centers. That's why an ecology-friendly status is not expected there. In winter, there is smog over the city, and in summer there is quite noticeable dust pollution. The fact that the city is located in a basin -- which means that cancer-causing chemicals stay over it longer -- leads to the issues with the atmosphere. Not surprisingly, "black sky" is a regular occurrence there. Thus, on January 30 and 31, an unfavorable weather profile was introduced in Novokuznetsk and in the neighboring town of  Prokopievsk.


The Clean Air Program

In 2019, the Russian authorities launched the Clean Air Program. At this moment, it is implemented as an experiment. A total of twelve cities take part in it: Chelyabinsk, Magnitogorsk, Novokuznetsk, Krasnoyarsk, Lipetsk, Bratsk, Norilsk, Omsk, Cherepovets, Chita, Nizhny Tagil and Mednogorsk.

The program is effective through 2024. If it is successful, it will be extended to other industrial cities. It is expected that this initiative will reduce pollutants by at least 20%.

Most of the changes will concern the operating conditions for large enterprises. Moreover, they will be responsible for the bulk of the costs. The total price of the project is 420.52 billion rubles. The federal budget will cover only 102.64 billion, and another 7 billion will be allocated by city councils. It is supposed that the enterprises will take the rest of the sum from their own budgets and upgrade the production processes at their own expense.

In addition, it is planned to introduce emission quotas. Today, each plant should ensure only that the concentration level of harmful substances does not exceed the generally accepted standards. However, when there are several dozens of manufacturing plants in the city, it turns out that there are much more carcinogens in the air than permissible. Therefore, it is planned to start out from the general quality of air and to implement its own standards for each factory. In their turn, the top executives of the plants threaten to reduce production and, consequently, to cut jobs.

However, in order to give people a chance to breathe clean and safe air the federal authorities are determined to improve the environmental conditions in Russia by all means.