Kola pollution "among worst in Europe"

Russian metals industry wasteful as well as damaging, new study reports

A comprehensive geochemical atlas of the Russian Kola peninsula, unveiled at a ministerial-level meeting of the so-called Barents Region in St Petersburg last week, paints a frightening picture of the area as one of the most polluted areas in Europe. But the atlas also suggests that a clean-up operation might more than pay for itself.

Norwegian environment minister Thorbjørn Berntsen told the meeting: "Over the years, an enormous amount of wealth in the form of valuable metallic particles has been spewed out through the chimney stacks on Kola. In some places, the soil surrounding metal refineries been shown to have a higher metallic content than the ores coming out of the mines.

"The value of cobalt, copper and nickel emitted every year from the smelter at Monchegorsk alone is more than NKr100m (Ecu12.7m)," Berntsen continued. "And that's not counting precious metals."

Silver, platinum, palladium and lead are also mentioned in the survey, four years in preparation and funded largely by the Norwegian environment ministry. The atlas charts levels in soil of more than 50 chemicals and/or metals, including six radionuclides, in western Kola and along the border between Russia and the Norwegian province of Finnmark.

With the exception of some radioactive materials, such as isotopes of caesium attributed to Soviet nuclear testing, traces of the pollutants are found to be negligible 100-200km from the source. "Acceptable limits" are still exceeded up to 10km away, however, it shows.

At the meeting, Norwegian delegates reiterated calls for Russia to clean up its act, in particular at the newly privatised mines and smelters at Nikel, which have caused serious pollution in east Finnmark. The new owners of Nikel and the Nordic Investment Bank have been discussing financing for a modernisation programme.

In the meantime, the ministry has announced a grant of NKr10m to create a clean-up fund under the Nordic environmental investment company NEFCO, and has called on other governments with interests in the region to make similar contributions. Since 1994, according to the ministry, the Norwegians have funded about 200 joint projects aimed at devising profitable methods of reducing or recycling emissions while establishing a joint "centre for cleaner production" in Moscow, concentrating on north-western Russia.

Established in 1992, the "Barents Region," comprises the three northern Norwegian counties plus the Russian counties of Murmansk and Archangel. It is one of a large handful of international Nordic or Arctic bodies aimed at promoting sustainable development in the region.

Follow Up:
Norwegian environment ministry, tel. +47 22 24 90 90.

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