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Barents Working Group: Problem solved!

Monchegorsk industrial complex
Norilsk Nickel's industrial complex in Monchegorsk on Russia's Kola Peninsula.

INARI: Barents Environmental Ministerial meeting on Wednesday received a glossy report by the Barents Working Group on Environment where the industrial disaster zone of Monchegorsk is labeled “solved” on the list of hot spots.

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The “AE, Industrial air emissions – solved” label for Monchegorsk industrial site of Kola GMK is introduced in the original list of 42 hot spots in Barents Russia with urgent ecological challenges.

The brochure is published in cooperation with Nordic Environmental Finance Corporation (NEFCO) in Helsinki on behalf of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC). The Council’s own portal listing the hot spots, however, still contradict the “solved” label printed in the Barents Working Group on Environment brochure by listing the M2 Severonickel smelter in Monchegorsk with the status-brand “In progress.”

According to Norilsk-Nickel’s own portal, the emission of sulphur dioxide (SO2) from Monchegorsk is 33,000 tons. That is more than twice the total Norwegian emission of SO2 that last year was 14,172 tons, according to the Norwegian Environment Agency. Russian environmental law, however, sets limits of pollution not by emission, but by maximum concentrations in the air. According to the Barents Hot spot report, the average annual concentrations of SO2 has remained below the allowable concentrations. 

The on-going pollution from the nickel and copper smelters in Monchegorsk is evident within a radius of at least 40 kilometers from the plant. Closest to the industrial complex there is a zone of complete destruction where nearly all trees are dead and severely degraded soils. 

The industrial complex of Kola GMK, a subsidiary of Norilsk-Nickel, in Monchegorsk is the second biggest emitter of air pollutants, particularly SO2, in the Murmansk region. It was the regional environmental authorities in Murmansk that proposed to exclude Mochegorsk from the original hot spot list.

Next category after “solved” on the hot spot list is “excluded” – a stamp that until Wednesday only had been granted to three of the original 42 hot spots defined.  

On Wednesday, the Barents Environmental Ministerial meeting in Inari, northern Finland, decided to exclude three more hot-spots from the Barents list. 

The Arkhangelsk Heat and Power Plant and Kondopoga Pulp and Paper Mill in Karelia have decreased their air emissions remarkably. A system to handle mercury-containing wastes was established in Nenets Autonomous District. With the three new exclusions, and with three excluded from before, the list now consists of 36 remaining hot spots.

The original list was made in 2003 when the Barents Euro-Arctic Council foreign and environment ministers set a target of launching environmental measures at all of the hot spots within 10 years by 2013. The 42 hot spots were defined by the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO) together with the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP). With 36 hot spots to go, including the infamous air-polluters in Nikel and Zapolyarny, much remains to be done. 

Finland’s Minister of Environment chaired the meeting in Inari and are glad three more hot spots now are removed.

“However, a lot of work still remains to be done and investments will be needed at many hot spots before the environmental problems are solved. Special attention and further international cooperation are needed to reduce transboundary impacts to a level that does not harm health and the environment”, says Ville Niinistö, Finland’s minister of the Environment.