Usolyekhimprom’s Demercurization: One Step At a Time

Usolyekhimprom’s Demercurization: One Step At a Time
The July statement by Svetlana Radionova, the chair of the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resource Usage (Rosprirodnadzor), who said the “ecological Chernobyl” is located in the Irkutsk region (Siberia), has not helped much so far to solve the problem. The industrial site in Usolye-Sibirskoye, a town in the Irkutsk region, is still poorly protected and serves as a source of severe environmental pollution.

Recall that this refers to two companies -- Usolyekhimprom chemical plant and Usolye-Sibirsky Silicon, which were the part of the Nitol Solar group of companies. For several years these enterprises have laid devastated and abandoned along with all hazardous substances that no one recycled. First of all, there are mercury, its compounds and other heavy metals. The site occupies hundreds of hectares, and nobody knows exactly what and where has been dumped there.

The authorities of both the region and the country have been talking about the necessity of reclamation for years. However, there is no noticeable progress. Not so long ago the Usolye Sibirsky city hall held a meeting on environmental security. The information released at the meeting came as a shock for many.

Transferring of the mercurial electrolysis section to the property of the Irkutsk region is one of the first priorities. In order to provide the authorities with the legal ground, something has to be done. But the process has been delayed for unknown reasons.

“Unfortunately, the government is only exchanging messages with the federal agencies. It may hinder the process of demercurization. In addition, the design estimate documentation itself has become outdated over time,” Oksana Piriyatina, the acting inter-district environmental prosecutor in the city of Angarsk said.

The feeling of going around in a circle exacerbates the problems with the specialized security of the industrial site once again. This is a way to stop scrap collectors who steal everything they find in the workshops. Including mercury tanks. Exactly one year ago, for this reason, an emergency situation had to be declared in the municipality, and it has been still in force today.

Then the authorities of the town said that they had no money to pay for security. And now the situation is repeating itself again: the regional ministry of property relations recommends the Usolye-Sibirskoye authorities to find 17 million rubles. But the town council does not have the needed money.

If the problem is not resolved, the industrial site could remain without any security at all as of next January.

Partially, the utilization works have already been in progress. In a manner, which is a bit strange, to put it mildly bit of a strange way, to put it mildly. The selected contractor examines twenty-two tanks to find out what hazardous substances they contain.

According to the data of the city department of civil defense and emergency situations, in mid-October its specialists almost triggered a situation that could have led to a tragedy when they allowed gas emission from one of the underground tanks. This raises questions about the qualification of those specialists. According to Vitaly Lazarev, head of the department, they had been saved only by the fact that the amount of gas was small enough. Otherwise, they would not have been able to avoid casualties.

Earlier, the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights recommended that Rosprirodnadzor check the soil and water in the area of the industrial site located in the immediate vicinity of the Angara River.

The results of the inspection turned out to be worse then all assumptions. By the end of August, at some spots of the danger zone, the mercury exceedence in the atmosphere was more than 160 times higher. The water samples from the collectors showed the excess by 310 times. This means tens of times higher than the mercury norm in the waste waters flowing down to the Angara.

The land under the former plants is literally full of industrial waste. The lead level exceeds the norm by a factor of 629. Oil products have surpassed by 8.7 times, copper by 6.3 times and zinc by 5.4 times.

“As a result of the inspection of wells in the area of the former brine field located beyond the enterprise with the wastes of oil products and epichlorohydrin, traces of the brine coming out on the ground have been revealed. Waste oil and epichlorohydrin pumped into the wells remain under pressure. In case of their release to the surface, the nearby village and the Angara may get into pollution zone. At the time of the inspection, the storm drains, plant effluents, water treatment facilities for the plant effluents, observation wells and wells in the area of former brine field were not serviced by any of the legal entities,” the Rosprirodnadzor report says.

“Why the former management of Rosprirodnadzor has not dealt with this issue and not exercised its supervisory functions is a big question. As far as I see it, its current executives have a priority to repair the accumulated environmental damage from Usolyekhimprom. This fact is inspiring without any doubt,” Alexander Kolotov, an ecologist and member of the Angara-Baikal Basin Council, said in his interview with