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This blog supports and follows the work of Baikal Environmental Wave, an NGO based in Irkutsk, Siberia. Baikal Wave have been working to save Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world, since 1990. See our recent posts for updates on their work.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Elite scientists' open letter to Prime Minister Putin in regards to the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill

Russian Academy of Sciences Office of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Siberian Branch Buryat Scientific Centre
Irkutsk Scientific Centre Siberian Branch RAS


05.04.2010 г. № 15701-2115.1/39

Prime Minister
Russian Federation
V.V.Putin

Dear Prime Minister,

In connection with the Decree of the Russian Federation of 13th January 2010 #1 “On amendments to the list of activities banned in the Central Ecological Zone of the Lake Baikal Natural Territory” a situation has been created allowing for the renewal of pulp production with the discharge of waste waters into Lake Baikal and the accumulation of waste of all categories of danger on the shore of this unique lake. The Decree is aimed at the renewal of operations at the Baikalsk Pulp Mill and use of 40 year old production technology that fails to satisfy present day requirements and allows for the emission of ill-smelling and harmful substances into the atmosphere that can be detected at distances of up to 70 kilometres and are an obstacle to the development of tourism in the area.

From the very beginning of its operation the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill (BPPM) has been a cause of discord between the government and society. It was the Baikalsk Mill that stimulated the development of the environmental movement in our country and today it remains a catastrophic threat not only to the lake but to the whole world.

The renewal of pulp production at the Baikalsk Pulp Mill with wastewater discharge violates Russia’s obligations concerning the protection of a common human value: the World Natural Heritage Site Lake Baikal, and also contravenes the requirements of the Russian Federal law “On the protection of Lake Baikal”, and prevents the development of really economically sound and environmentally acceptable projects for the development of the town of Baikalsk on the basis of Lake Baikal’s natural potential: tourism and recreation, bottled water production and so on.

It seems to us that the funds that are planned to subsidise the renewal of pulp production at BPPM would most likely be more wisely directed towards support for former mill personnel and on re-profiling production in the town of Baikalsk. More specifically, the transformation of the town into a tourist centre could solve many questions relating to local employment. Apart from that, it would be possible to develop the production of medicinal products from Siberian larch, manufacture of silicon solar panels and modules, and other kinds of production that are planned for Irkutsk Oblast in the near future.

Finally, the production of bottled Baikal water, so urgently required in Asia cannot be a profitable concern while the Mill continues to operate.

It should be remembered that when Baikal received the status of World Natural Heritage Site, Russia guaranteed that the BPPM would be converted. Now this promise has been forgotten and this has caused a negative reaction in the world community.

Prime Minister, we recall with gratitude your decision to remove the East-Siberian-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline from the shores of Baikal. For this reason we are addressing you with the request to be consistent in the matter of Baikal’s conservation: to ban pulp production in the Central Ecological Zone of Lake Baikal and preserve the “planet’s well” for the welfare of Russia.

Please find attached to this letter an analysis of the ecological consequences that could come about as a result of renewal of pulp production at BPPM with the discharge of waste waters into Baikal.

Signed:
B.V.Bazarov – Chairman of the Presidium of the Office of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Buryat Scientific Centre of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Corresponding member of RAS.
I.V.Bychkov – Chairman of the Presidium, Irkutsk Scientific Centre SB RAS, corresponding member of RAS.
V.I.Voronin – Deputy Director of the Office of the Russian Academy of Sciences of the Siberian Institute of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry SB RAS, Ph.D.
M.I.Kuzmin – Chairman of the Scientific Council SB RAS on questions concerning Lake Baikal, Deputy Chair of the Presidium of the Office of the Russian Academy of Sciences of Irkutsk Scientific Centre SB RAS, Academician.
V.M.Pliusnin – Acting Director of the Office of the Russian Academy of Sciences of the V.B.Sochava Institute of Geography SB RAS, Ph.D.
V.S.Rukavishnikov – Deputy Chair of the Presidium East Siberian Scientific Centre SB RA of Medical Sciences, Acting Director of the East Siberian Scientific Centre of Human Ecology SB RAMS, Director of the Scientific Research Institute of Occupational Medicine and Human Ecology, Corresponding member of RAMS.
G.I.Tatkov – Director of the Institute of Geology SB RAS, Ph.D.
B.A.Trofimov – Director of the Office of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Irkutsk Favorskii Institute of Chemistry, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Academician.
A.K.Tulokhonov – Director of the Baikal Institute of Natural Resource Use, SB RAS, corresponding member, RAS.
L.L.Ubugunov - Director of the Institute of General and Experimental Biology, SB RAS, PhD. Professor.


ANALYTICAL NOTES
for decision-making on BPPM & the town of Baikalsk

Lake Baikal is a unique natural phenomenon, source of more than 20% of the planet’s surface fresh water. On inclusion of Lake Baikal into the list of World Natural Heritage Sites, the government of the Russian Federation was given special recommendations by the UNESCO Committee: 1) irrevocable passing of a Federal Law on Lake Baikal; 2) conversion of the Baikalsk PPM in such a way as to liquidate it as a source of pollution; 3) reduction of the discharge of pollutants into the river Selenga; 4) increase the resource capacity of protected national parks and nature reserves adjacent to the lake; 5) continuation of and further support to scientific research and monitoring at Lake Baikal.

The peculiarity of the situation in the town of Baikalsk is not only the severe economic condition that came about as a result of the ineffective management of the Mill and its closure at the decision of its managing company “Continental Management”, but also the considerable environmental problems. In the present case, it is just as important to take into account environmental factors in the knot of problems of the town, as it is to consider the economic and social aspects.

The Russian Federal Decree № 1 “On amendments to the list of activities banned in the Central Ecological Zone of the Lake Baikal Natural Territory,” of 13th January 2010, has created a situation that permits the renewal of pulp production with the discharge of waste waters into Lake Baikal and the accumulation of all classes of dangerous waste on the shores of this unique lake.

It is quite clear that any decision on the operations of the BPPM must be accompanied by plans for the future of the town of Baikalsk. Failure to take a decision on the future of the town is as inadmissible as it is to make ill-considered and scientifically unsound decisions. In accordance with the obligations taken on itself by the Government of the Russian Federation, it is necessary to convert the Baikalsk Mill so that it ceases to be a source of pollution to Lake Baikal.

The words of Academician Nigmatulin, in Irkutsk in the summer of 2009, were incorrectly interpreted as being an opinion as to the absence of negative impact of the Baikalsk Mill on the ecosystem of Lake Baikal and its surrounding territories. In actual fact, scientists of the Russian Academy of Sciences, first and foremost the Siberian Branch of RAS, have been undertaking research for over 40 years that gives witness to the fact of the anthropogenic impact of the Baikalsk PPM, gives grounds for middle-range and long-term forecasts of the consequences of this impact, and also indicates the considerable ecological risks of pulp and paper production.

The Chairman of the Scientific Council SB RAS on problems relating to Lake Baikal, Academician Mikhail Kuzmin, spoke of the necessity for conversion of the BPPM at a meeting with you on August 1st 2009 and also in a letter sent to you on 16th December 2009 in which it was said that it is inadmissible to re-launch the Mill with the discharge of wastewaters into the lake.

The discharge of wastewaters into Baikal is necessary for the Mill in order to produce bleached pulp using chlorine bleaching, i.e. with the production cycle designed by the Mill. As a result of the operations of pulp and paper mills with chlorine bleaching, dioxins and chlorinated furans are formed as by-products. Their composition in BPPM wastewaters bears a considerable likeness to the composition of dioxins and chlorinated furans found in soils and sediments, and zooplankton collected near the BPPM. Dioxins have also been found in a number of Baikal fauna. When these are a regular part of people’s diet, the risk of cancer amongst the local population increases, as has been found along the shores of water bodies where chlorine bleaching is used at local pulp mills. In the light of this, the scientific community is categorically against the re-launching of the Baikalsk Mill with the discharge of its wastewaters directly into Baikal. Similar pulp mills abroad are going over to pulp bleaching with hydrogen peroxide and ozone.

Conversion to such a technology is problematic for the BPPM and the mill operates with a technology that was designed at the beginning of the 1960s. The Mill’s main technological equipment, the pulping process, flushing, bleaching, lime regeneration and timber preparation has hardly been changed for more than 40 years. BPPM’s output is small by comparison with that of the best Russian and foreign enterprises. With its present capacity BPPM competes badly on the world and domestic markets.

Higher concentrations of phenol than are permissible for water bodies are found in the Mill’s wastewaters; the same is true for chloride and sulfate ions. Elevated concentrations of PCBs, whose origins are as yet unclear, have been noted. Most importantly, the atmosphere around the Mill is polluted by foul-smelling compounds of bivalent sulfur, hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide and methyl disulfide. The smells of mercaptan can be sensed distinctly over distances of up to 70 kilometres. The mill releases a tonne of ill-smelling substances into the atmosphere every day. Concentrations of mercaptan exceeding those permitted by 10 or more times have been registered in the residential part of the town of Baikalsk. This is of considerable discomfort to people in the town and its environs.

As indicated in the State Report “On the state of Lake Baikal and measures for its protection, 2007,” (Ministry for Natural Resources and the Environment of the Russian Federation, Moscow, 2008, Table 1.4.11.1), in the Central Ecological Zone of the Baikal Natural Territory, BPPM contributes 51% of emissions into the atmosphere from all sources (including enterprises, organisations, residential etc.), discharges 86% of wastewaters entering the lake, and creates 42% of the solid waste.

The considerable emissions of methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide and methyl disulfide have an adverse effect on human health. The combined impact of these compounds gives rise to irritation of the respiratory system, depresses oxidation-reduction processes, causes irregularities of carbohydrate metabolism, and has a negative impact on the state of human protein molecules. Investigations have shown the adverse impact of these compounds on female reproductive functions. Staff of the Scientific Research Institute of Occupational Medicine and Human Ecology, East Siberian Scientific Centre SB RAS, have determined that a high frequency of complications during pregnancy and childbirth can be observed in women of child-bearing age that have been exposed to methyl sulphurous compounds. Such abnormalities as placental pathology, threat of miscarriage, and possibility of miscarriage have been registered (with a risk of 54-76%).

The Mill is situated in an area of high seismic activity with the possibility of earthquakes of up to 9-11 degrees on the 12-point Richter scale. Thus, in the case of an earthquake, reagents and waste could find their way into Baikal from broken vessels and reservoirs. When considering possible risks, it is essential to bear in mind the possible leakage of liquid chlorine and the rupture of vessels containing white and black sulphite liquors, oil products and sulphuric acid, also the rupture of protective structures and influx of the accumulated waste after wastewater treatment from sludge ponds into the lake. Other serious environmental consequences are possible.

It is appropriate to recollect President Vladimir Putin’s words when he made the decision to re-route the oil pipeline far to the north. “If there is even a tiny risk of danger from pollution to Baikal, then we, thinking of future generations, must do everything in order not to minimize this danger, but to eliminate it.”

It should be noted that, as mentioned in the letter of the Director of the Department for Timber and Light Industry of the Russian Ministry for Trade and Industry, M.I.Klinov, to Academician Mikhail Kuzmin (19.01.2010), pulp production at the Baikalsk Mill was unprofitable. Before the Mill was closed in October 2008, according to Klinov’s data, the enterprise was making monthly losses of up to 80 million roubles. In view of this, there is little hope that the BPPM can make an income for the town’s and oblast’s budgets.

We understand that those who were left unemployed in Baikalsk must be supported till the beginning of operations of new enterprises in the town. Funds that are planned to subsidise the renewal of pulp production at BPPM, would most likely be more wisely directed towards support for former mill personnel and on re-profiling production in the town of Baikalsk. More specifically, the transformation of the town into a tourist centre could solve many questions relating to local employment. Apart from that, it would be possible to develop the production of medicinal products from Siberian larch, the manufacture of silicon solar panels and modules, and other kinds of production, planned for development in Irkutsk Oblast in the near future, in Baikalsk. Finally, the production of bottled Baikal water, so urgently required in Asia cannot be properly established while the Mill continues to operate. The same is true for the creation of an attractive tourist and recreational zone in the town.

We hope that the facts cited in this note will help in the making of a correct decision for the town of Baikalsk and its inhabitants.

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