Russia TV’s “Vesti Nedeli” Sunday feature on 8 June highlighted the plight of an area in Russia’s northwestern region of Karelia, the site of a major aluminium producer, whose residents have “lived in dreadful environmental conditions for decades”. Children and adults alike suffer from fluorosis. The concentration of cancerous substances is massive. One man has plucked up the courage and sued the company. Meanwhile, the dumping of harmful waste continues. The following is an excerpt from the report:
(Presenter) The environment and the health of the nation, among other subjects, dominated news headlines last week.
(Passage omitted: details of Putin-chaired State Council discussion on the subject. See other reports.) Traditionally, pollution in the Urals and industrial Siberia has been of particular concern. However, even Karelia, which has always been regarded as environmentally trouble-free, is now also at risk. In one area of the republic, its population has lived in dreadful environmental conditions for decades. Our correspondent Andrey Kondrashov came across intimidation and threats when he attempted to investigate how big money is made at the expense of people’s health.
(Correspondent) When children in the town of Nadvoitsy grin, it is a shock. Their teeth, to put it bluntly, are rotten. Here, it is a condition that spares almost no-one. Those too young to understand don’t yet ask why their teeth are discoloured and crumble. Those old enough know what causes that:
(Young girl) It’s this black smoke, which we breathe in and which destroys our teeth.
(Correspondent) Is that what the dentist said?
(The same girl) Yes.
(Correspondent) And the name of this disease, rare elsewhere in the world? Karelia has known it for a long time: fluorosis. Back in 1988, the Soviet Health Ministry named the culprit. It is Nadvoitsy’s aluminium plant. At the end of the 1980s, these pictures were seen at virtually every environmental forum. It is a disease which results in the softening of bone and muscle tissue because of the organism’s chronic poisoning with fluoride.
Water from the plant’s waste storage facility where fluoride compounds were dumped found its way into Nadvoitsy’s water mains. After the rallies, the waste storage area was sealed from the water intake. For a while, people felt reassured.
Now, the scandal has flared up anew, with a vengeance. For the first time in Russia’s history, the Segezha District court (district centre Segezha) ruled that the plant, harmful to the environment, must pay for the damage it does to people’s health. So far, the people are represented by one man. He is Dmitriy Kuzin, 19.
(Passage omitted: Kuzin details his complaints, adds that treatment is expensive. Dmitriy himself, his sister and his brother are ill.)
To the court order for compensation to be paid to the Kuzins, the plant responded with threats.
(Kuzin) Both my family and I have received threats, but mainly I. I have been told, by some local thugs, to abandon my lawsuit.
(Correspondent) What did they say?
(Kuzin) They even told me they would kill me.
(Passage omitted: others tell similar stories.)
(Correspondent) One result of the studies is that it has been established that genetic changes have already taken place in many among the local population. Their children are ill.
The plant’s management, meanwhile, is stubbornly refusing to discuss any environmental issues. Its territory is out of bounds. To obtain a pass, our film crew is told to contact the head of security at the plant.
(Correspondent, to a man in an office) We want to enter the plant.
(The man) You can want it as much as you like. And don’t film me.
(Correspondent) The plant’s director, Gennadiy Nechayev, refuses to meet us. We can’t enter the plant. He says, however, that a new discharge purification system is being built at the plant. The only man who argues with him openly is environmentalist Andrey Kozlovich. In his bachelor’s flat, the one thing of value is a folder that contains materials he has gathered since 1990.
(Kozlovich) Thus, in women in the town of Nadvoitsy, the incidence of miscarriages is greater by 280 per cent, stillborn babies by 380 per cent and congenital defects by 1,680 per cent.
(Correspondent) Even so, Kozlovich says, fluorosis and the statistics mentioned above are only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to fluoride compounds, the carcinogenic benzopyrene has also been discovered, now in the water rather than in the air.
(Kozlovich) In the residential area itself, the concentration of benzopyrene is 77 times the permissible limit. There are spots where the concentration of benzopyrene is 240 times the permissible limit. No serious studies into the danger of cancers, however, have been undertaken.
(Correspondent) Nor is it easy to take a look at precisely what the plant’s waste storage area contains. Recently, a barrier was erected and a guard in combat fatigues posted at the roadside on the way to the swamp, officially safe.
(Passage omitted: film crew make detour to reach the site of the waste storage area.)
This is it. This is the swamp. And, what is more, production waste is still being dumped here. The population, meanwhile, is being told that it all is safe and above board.
(Passage omitted: scuffle as the film crew is confronted by a security guard; a plant representative is bombarded with accusations by angry residents; Dmitriy Kuzin’s mother recalls how her husband, who later committed suicide, was beaten up after he sued the plant 10 years ago.)
After he received threats from local thugs, Dmitriy Kuzin, who continues what his father began, now goes about armed with an air pistol. The factory has appealed against the court order on the payment of compensation to Dmitriy on health grounds. There is a question mark over the fate of the lawsuit. Any connection between the plant’s management and criminal structures has been denied.
Production at the plant has now reached 74,000 tonnes of aluminium per annum, against the plant’s design capacity of 67,000 tonnes.
(Passage omitted: Soviet-era slogans still adorn the walls.)
If a price can at all be put on people’s health, they believe in Nadvoitsy, it must, so to speak, be made part of the price of aluminium. And at least in part to compensate people for the irreparable damage to their health, it must come from the company’s profits. It is a simple theory, which is yet to be put into practice. Will it ever be? We still don’t know. As before, people are dying for the sake of a metal (a line from the opera “Faust”). The only thing, they say here, is that whereas earlier you got a flat for your trouble, now, it seems, you get nothing.
Source: RTR Russia TV, Moscow, in Russian 1600 gmt 8 Jun 03