MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Russia: River at Norilsk turns red

Published by MAC on 2016-09-14
Source: Guardian, BBC, IWGIA, NY Times, Conversation

There has been another incident at nickel-producing Arctic city of Norilsk after social media users began sharing photos of the unnaturally red colour in the river Daldykan.

After some delay Norilsk Nickel admitted a spillage at one of its plants was responsible for the incident.

The plant is on the Taimyr peninsula in Northern Siberia, which is home to some 20,000 indigenous Dolgans and Nenets, most of which depend on reindeer herding, hunting, fishing and gathering for their survival.

A short video has been produced on the issue by London-based documentary filmmaker, Victoria Fiore:

Previous article on MAC: Norilsk Nickel named ‘dirtiest industry in the Arctic’

Investigation ordered as Russian river turns red

Pipeline is feared to have broken in Arctic city of Norilsk, where Daldykan river runs close to nickel-producing factory.

Alec Luhn

7 September 2016

Russian authorities have ordered an investigation into a possible pipeline break after a river in the nickel-producing Arctic city of Norilsk turned bright red.

Social media users began sharing photos of the unnaturally red Daldykan river on Tuesday, with some writing that it had also changed colour in June.

A few users suggested iron ore in the ground had changed the river’s colour, but others said industrial waste was a more likely reason. The river runs near to the Nadezhda metallurgical factory run by Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest producer of nickel and palladium.

Russia’s natural resources and environment ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that it was investigating complaints of unknown chemical pollution, possibly caused by a “break in a Norilsk Nickel slurry pipe”.

Norilsk Nickel denied an industrial spill into the Daldykan and said the “colour of the river today doesn’t differ from its usual condition”, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported. But the company said it was temporarily reducing manufacturing work while it monitored the situation. The Norilsk mayor’s office said the city’s water supply came from other sources.

According to Denis Koshevoi, a PhD candidate at the Vernadsky Institute for Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry, who is researching pollution in the area, Norilsk Nickel pumps chemical solutions from Nadezhda to a nearby tailings dam via pipes. It also pumps metal concentrates from ore mills to Nadezhda, he said.

“Periodically there are accidents when these pipes break and the solutions spill and get into the Daldykan – that’s why it changes colour,” Koshevoi told the Guardian.

“A leak into the river from the Nadezhda factory,” the Norilsk resident Yekaterina Basalyga wrote under two pictures of the river on her Instagram account. “You get scared when you see this. And people are still gathering mushrooms and berries.”

Another commenter quoted the Bible passage in which the Lord tells Moses and Aaron to “strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood”.

Norilsk developed as a gulag camp in 1935 and is known for its harsh winters, two-month polar night and high level of industrial pollution.

Russian metals firm admits spillage turned river blood red

Norilsk Nickel insists the temporary problem will not affect people or wildlife, but environmental activists say it is too early to tell

AFP in Moscow

12 September 2016

Russian metals giant Norilsk Nickel has admitted a spillage at one of its plants was responsible for turning a local river blood red.

Russia’s environment ministry last week launched an investigation into the incident after images showed the Daldykan river near Norilsk in the far north of Russia flowing bright red, with local activists blaming the nearby Nadezhda metallurgical plant.

After initially refusing to confirm a leak, Norilsk Nickel – the world’s biggest producer of nickel and palladium – on Monday said heavy rain on 5 September had resulted in water flooding over a filtration dam at the plant and into the river.

“Despite the short-term discolouration of the water ... this incident does not present a danger for people or fauna in the river,” the company said in a statement.

Environmental activists, however, insisted that it was too early to judge the environmental impact, since the official investigation was still ongoing.

“You can’t just say that it’s no big deal. Right now there is a ministry of environment commission there,” said Greenpeace Russia official Alexei Kiselyov.

Kiselyov said that investigating pollution from Norilsk Nickel plants was extremely difficult, because its infrastructure was located in remote areas and the firm controlled access to the entire Taymyr peninsula, which lies between the Kara and Laptev seas in the Russian Arctic.

Groups representing indigenous populations in the area say that local media went out of their way to whitewash the company and did not inform the public after the accident.

“We had a report after it happened that claimed the river colour came [naturally] from clay. That is just laughable to local people,” said Sidor Chuprin, an indigenous activist.

He accused Norilsk Nickel workers of poor safety standards and said locals are concerned about the Daldykan river, because they fish in another river further downstream.

“They don’t care about polluting, because they all have homes on the mainland,” he said, referring to central Russia.

Chuprin added that there were no environmental officials based on the remote peninsula, and that locals struggled to hold the metals giant to account.

“Of course, this is in their interest,” he said of Norilsk Nickel. “We are not experts; all we can do is take a picture.”

Russia: Tailings pipe spill at Norilsk Nickel threatens Taimyr's rivers and lakes

7 September 2016

Source: Association of Indigenous Peoples of Taimyr

At the world's largest nickel mine and smelter, Norilsk Nickel on Taimyr peninsula in Northern Siberia, a severe pipeline spill has occured. Taimyr is home to some 20,000 indigenous Dolgans and Nenets, most of which depend on reindeer herding, hunting, fishing and gathering for their survival. The industrial city of Norilsk with some 200,000 inhabitants located in the peninsula although administratively separate from it, is considered one of the world's most polluted cities.

As the Association of indigenous peoples of Taimyr writes on facebook, slurry pipeline has broken and is releasing a large amount of toxic slurry into the river Daldykan. Further, the pollution is expected to reach the lake Pyasino, Pyasina river, which is a fishing ground of the highest category and end up in the Arctic Ocean.

The association reports that they are sending appeals to the environmental structures of Krasnoyarsk krai, the territory into which Taimyr was incorporated a decade ago. They comment on the situation: "As we know, the Arctic nature is fragile, but it is very common for industrial companies to consider it an obstacle to the generation of superprofits.

According to Wikipedia, the company had a turnover of 11 billion USD in 2014 and yielded a net profit of 2 billion.

Blood-red Siberian river reminds us that mining is a risky business

11 September 2016

A river in Norilsk, Siberia, has turned a vivid shade of red, alarming local residents and resulting in a minor social media storm. The change in colour was reportedly due to a spill from a nearby nickel smelting plant. While the owners of that specific plant have denied responsibility, it seems likely that this is the latest incident in what appears to be a mounting international list of major spills in the mining and mineral processing sector.

Last month there was a major spill of waste from an alumina processing in China, only one year after the destructive spill of mine tailings at Minas Gerais in Brazil. These follow similar spills in Mount Polley, Canada, in 2014 and Ajka, Western Hungary, in 2010.

Blood from a stone

When water is polluted by mining and mineral processing, a reddish hue is usually associated with iron oxides, that are common in mineral-rich areas. Indeed, in areas where the natural weathering of metal sulphide minerals (such as pyrite) occurs, it’s common to find streams named for their reddish hue, such as the Red River in England, Rio Tinto in Spain and Afon Goch in Wales.

The Rio Tinto, Spain. Lorenmart/Flickr, CC BY-NCMining mineral deposits greatly increases the chance that the natural process of weathering will speed up, releasing more metals into the environment. While iron oxides that result from this weathering are relatively benign chemicals, these sediments can smother stream beds, with major ecological consequences.

What’s more, the waste from mining and mineral processing can be acidic, and contain a range of metals that are highly toxic to aquatic life and potentially damaging to public health.

We don’t yet know exactly what chemicals have caused the Siberian incident. The owners of the plant, Norilsk Nickel, have denied responsibility but have said they will monitor the situation.

But if the spill was of slurry (waste rock) destined for the tailings pond, it would be acidic and rich in nickel and copper (among other elements), which are very toxic to aquatic life. In similar cases at Aznalcóllar (Spain) and Baia Mare (Romania) at the turn of the century, the spills led to long term ecological impacts on birds, mammals and fish.

A growing problem?

Throughout much of Europe and North America, the bulk of heavy primary industry has shrunk over the past 30 to 40 years. And thankfully, the risk of major pollution disasters is relatively small, due to the enforcement of high regulatory standards through waste tip inspections.

But abandoned storage facilities for metal tailings can still fail, and the legacy of historic mining can still be seen (albeit in a less spectacular fashion) through the pollution caused by mine waters and the gradual erosion of exposed spoil heaps. For example, 5% of rivers in England and Wales are still polluted by metals from mines abandoned in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.

What’s more, the expansion of mining activity continues on a global level. There’s a growing demand for metal resources both old and new, with mines searching out iron, zinc, copper and lead, as well as rare earths and e-tech metals for renewable energies and new technologies.

As such, the potential for metal waste pollution is increasing on a global scale. This issue is exacerbated by the increased working of lower-grade ores, which leads to a greater portion of waste rock being generated.

Indeed, studies suggest that the human circulation of metals through mining, refining, processing, use and disposal now greatly outweighs the natural flow of metals around the planet, through the slow weathering of bedrock, transportation and transformation of metals. Some observers have even suggested that metal-laden river sediments associated with early mining activities are a good marker for the Anthropocene epoch – the designated period in which human activity has had a profound effect on the climate and the environment.

A solution to pollution

The mining industry itself has taken major strides to limit its environmental impacts through various initiatives, in no small part because of the significant costs of managing long-abandoned “legacy” sites. Steps taken include better source control, and novel approaches to deal with long-standing mine pollution, such as biological treatment of metal-rich waters.

Despite this progress, pollution problems can and will still occur. These may be associated with legacy waste, than with a lack of public funds to address them, or less scrupulous mining companies operating in lax regulatory regimes.

In many cases, sudden failures of mine waste storage facilities are caused by extreme weather events. As such, the resilience of current and historic mine waste facilities to the expected impacts of climate change needs to be a priority.

The striking appearance of the red river in Siberia is a stark reminder of the potential environmental costs linked with modern technology, and the severe pollution risks associated with one of humanity’s oldest industries. We wait to see what the Russian authorities officially conclude was the cause of the river changing colour. But better reporting of such incidents globally – which has been enhanced by social media in recent years – will add pressure on mining companies to continue to clean up their act.

Red river near Arctic nickel plant examined by inspectors

BBC News 

8 September 2016

Russian environmental inspectors are trying to establish why a river near the Norilsk Nickel industrial complex in the Arctic has turned blood-red.

Dramatic pictures of the discoloured Daldykan river have been posted widely on Russian media.

The government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta says a leaking slurry pipeline carrying waste copper-nickel concentrate could be to blame.

Norilsk Nickel is the world's largest nickel and palladium producer.

Its vast furnaces were built on the Taimyr Peninsula, in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia, in the Soviet era.

The mining group has a production facility called Nadezhda by the Daldykan river. But company officials said they were not aware of any river pollution from the plant.

Billionaire oligarch Vladimir Potanin is president of Norilsk Nickel.

My Beautiful, Deadly City

Victoria Fiore

9 August 2016

Not many people have heard of Norilsk, an industrial city in an isolated part of Arctic Russia. No roads or trains lead there; internet is severely limited; and it is it closed to foreigners. Getting there, I would find out, is very difficult.

Yet despite its obscurity, Norilsk has one of the largest mining and metallurgical complexes in the world and produces most of the earth’s palladium, an essential mineral in electronics and automobiles. Most of us probably have a bit of Norilsk in our pockets, bags or homes.

Having this connection to such an alien place intrigued me; Norilsk was the most important city I’d never heard of. Then, after seeing my co-producer-to-be Elena Chernyshova’s photo reportage of the city, which reveals a mysterious place stuck between a Soviet past and a dystopian future, I decided that I had to go.

But getting there took almost two years of almost daily calls and negotiations with the mining company and the Russian Federal Security Service. Our requests to visit were repeatedly turned down and unspecified members of our team of six deemed “dubious.” After we increased pressure, two of us were finally allowed enter the city with a week’s warning.

During my time there, what intrigued me most about Norilsk was not its terrible pollution. Yes, the city is plagued by sulfur dioxide emissions that endanger plant life, discolor snow and reduce life expectancy.

But what really makes Norilsk extraordinary is its citizens’ obvious pride in surviving against the odds. Residents consistently say they deeply love their city: Wedding photos are taken at gas-shrouded factories and groups climb mountains to admire the view of refineries.

Eventually I realized I loved the city too, with its surreal, decayed charm. But this raised disquieting questions: Are we as ready as the people of Norilsk to ignore our impact on our environment? Knowing that our voracious consumption fuels industry, and pollution, in Norilsk, are we prepared to alter our habits?

I never uncovered why Norilsk is closed to foreigners, but I did find an unsettling future that reflects our own attitudes toward our changing world and a fascinating, deadly, beautiful city.



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