Russian metal giant fined for turning river red with pollution

Russian metal giant fined for turning river red with pollution

Norilsk Nickel from Russia, the world's largest producer of nickel and palladium, was fined over a spillage near the Nadhezda metallurgical factory. The spillage occurred in early September 2016 and turned the Daldykan river red.

After the images showing the unnaturally red color of the river were posted to social media, the Russian environment ministry conducted an investigation into, what was then suspected to be, a possible pipeline break.

When the incident occurred, Nickel denied a leak has happened and said the heavy rainfall caused the water flooding over a filtration dam into the river. The company stated the manufacturing work has been reduced at the time, allowing the monitoring of the situation.

On September 7, the Ministry announced it was investigating a pollution of an unknown chemical cause, possibly induced by a "break in a Norilsk Nickel slurry pipe".

Video credit: Freedom via YouTube

Denis Koshevoi, a PhD student at the Vernadsky Institute for Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry, said the chemical solutions from Nadezhda are being pumped to the tailings dam via pipes.

“Periodically there are accidents when these pipes break and the solutions spill and get into the Daldykan – that’s why it changes color,” he explained.

On November 1, the media reports the company was fined for the pollution impact on the river Daldykan.

"Norilsk Nickel confirms the company was issued a decree detailing administrative punishment," a company statement was sent to AFP.

Although the exact amount of the fine hasn't been revealed, the Russia's administrative code states the companies which violate protection regulations for bodies water can be fined anywhere between 30 000 to 40 000 rubles, which is equivalent to between $475 and $630. The company made a net profit of $1.3 billion in the first half of 2016, for comparison.

The Daldykan river runs into a local lake, often used for fishing. However, according to an environmentalist, there was no information to warn the public about the spillage. According to the Norilsk mayor, the water supply in the city doesn't come from the polluted river.

Red Daldykan river observed by satellites

The red discoloration in the waters around Norilsk was observed on Landsat satellite images on several occasions during the last few decades. The river has turned red on several dates, including July 2015, July 2014, August 2013, July 1998, and September 1997. 

The image below was taken in August 2001, and it mirrors the one from August 2016, acquired by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8. A several kilometers long red trail can be observed along the slurry pipeline from the Norilsk smelters to a storage facility for chemical waste, located in the foothills of the mountain.

Daldykan river image acquired by Landsat 7, August 9, 2001. Image credit: NASA/Landsat 7

Daldykan river image acquired by Landsat 7, August 9, 2001. Image credit: NASA/Landsat 7

Daldykan river image acquired by OLI on Landsat 8, August 10, 2016. Image credit: NASA/Landsat 8

Daldykan river image acquired by OLI on Landsat 8, August 10, 2016. Image credit: NASA/Landsat 8

Gareth Rees, a scientist from Cambridge, has witnessed the discoloration during the mid-1990s:  “During the fieldwork, my colleagues and I noted at least one river that was running red, and [we saw] areas of drying-out red sediment. These effects are very marked and widespread and can be mapped using remote sensing methods.”

Featured image credit: Freedom via YouTube

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