Benzene Slick on the Authorities’ Reputation Nesessary measures

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Benzene Slick on the Authorities’ Reputation

Nesessary measures:

Measures listed below are proposed by Greenpeace and WWF Russia experts, who have been constantly monitoring this spill on its way from Harbin to Khabarovsk, and represent minimal adequate response that is absolutely necessary to mitigate consequences of current spill and prevent future environmental hazards in Amur basin.
(1) It’s necessary to work out a plan to carry out comprehensive evaluation of impact and take restoration measures. The plan should be developed and implemented by the authorised federal agency with the clear system of coordination with other agencies and organizations. According to the Russian state policy, such authorized agency is the Ministry of Natural Resources, and the mandatory participants of the environmental impact evaluation and monitoring are Goskomhydromet (State Commission on Hydrology and Meteorology) and the Russian Academy of Sciences.
(2) It’s also necessary to provide mandatory familiarization of citizens with the procedure and results of the environmental impact assessment presently being carried out by People's Republic of China or, better, to organize joint environmental impact assessment focusing on the impact on Amur river ecosystem and life support systems. For this purpose it’s necessary to establish joint Russian-Chinese Environmental Monitoring and Research Center to study ecological problems of the Amur with the extended network of monitoring stations along the main river channel.
(3) Preparation and realization of the respective action plan , as well as the system of cooperation with the People's Republic of China on all environmental issues should be provided with the targeted sufficient federal funding.
(4) To manage the situation, one should at least have sufficient information about it.It is critical to increase the number of stations in the network of hydrochemical monitoring Goskomhydromet on the main channel of Amur River from three to the number sufficient to monitor the transboundary pollution; and to include all typical pollutants brought with the waters from China in the list of analyzed chemicals.
(5) The modern and effective system of informing about transboundary problems should be established in the Russian-Chinese agreement as soon as possible. The coming meeting of Ecological Ministers of the member countries of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will be a good chance for that.
(6) It’s time to unite efforts of Russia,China and Mongolia for international environmental management of the Amur River Basin following the example of the formed Russian Coordination Committee for Sustainable Development of the Amur river basin. At the end of this year the project of Global Environment Foundation/UNEP “Complex Management of the Amur Basin” will be launched, which is aimed to prepare Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis and to form the platform for negotiations and development of the joint Action Plan for Amur River Basin.

Such international Action Plan should address comprehensively all major environmental and nature resources problems in the region: severe pollution and human-altered hydrology, ecosystem and biodiversity conservation, preserving traditional cultures and restoring fishstocks, and first and foremost - preventing harmful environmental impacts on amur ecosystem resulting from growing economies and speeding economic cooperation in North-East Asia.

Amur River is the largest international river basin in Eurasia, possessing immense ecological values and rich natural resources, and environmental protection and sustainable use of Amur should become priority item for countries of Amur River Basin and should be the top issue on agenda for cooperation between them. .

Additional information

1. What was released in the river after the accident at the Chinese chemical plant?

As a result of the explosion at the oil processing plant in Jilin on November 13 t, more than 100 tons of polluting chemicals, including benzene and nitrobenzene, were released in the largest tributary of the Amur River – Sungari.

The Russian party still does not have the detailed information about the composition of pollutants at the moment of the accident. On the night of December 21 the concentration of nitrobenzene in the water in 130 km upstream Khabarovsk more than 13 times exceeded the maximum permissible concentration according to the fishery standard. There was also high concentration of other polluting chemicals and a distinctive smell of chlorine – possibly because of an attempt to purify water in the upstream river by means of chlorine-containing chemicals.
Unfortunately, the Russian party does not have reliable information about background concentrations of pollutants in Amur upstream and downstream of its confluence with

Songhua/Sungari River, which makes the evaluation of the situation and taking necessary measures more difficult. Thus, downstream the confluence with Sungari Goskomgidromet has a station for hydrochemical measurements (in Khabarovsk), but the indicators it monitors do not include many typical chemicals that are brought with water from the Chinese People's Republic.

Meantime Amur has high concentrations of many pollutants, and the flow of pollutants from China regularly increases the concentration of dangerous chemicals to the critical level even without accidental major emissions. The consequences of the accident can only be considered in the context of chronic pollution of water and fish with many hazardous chemicals.

2. How this may affect the ecosystem?

The effects of the release have many aspects and have to be considered in the light of solutions to the problem of chronic pollution of Amur:

  • Political: the time necessary to solve the problem depends on the ability of Russia and China to use this accident for drastic enhancement of the system of international environmental safety in the Amur basin. If Russia does not use this accident to radically improve its practical cooperation with China on environmental issues, this may cause serious consequences – removing questions of environmental safety from the agenda of international negotiations and cooperation.

  • Medical: this will be both a negative impact on the health of the population consuming the water and fish in the near months and, in long term perspective, further deterioration of the environmental parameters and accumulation of toxic chemicals in the food chain with the man on the top of it.

  • Social: " Patology of liver, blood producing system, vegetal-nerve system, increased level of innate anomalies and malformation have chemical origin, concerning with eating ‘durty’ fish from Amur river. Risk of pathology increasing with stable situation with pollution will redouble in 3 years and if concentraton of toxins will rise – more than in three times.

  • Economic: (reduction of fish resources, increasing costs of water treatment for drinking supply, and treatment of domestic and industrial sewage): this aspect is already evident judging by both expenses for operations to prevent the consequences and the ban for fishing and decrease in demand for fish from the Amur basin supplied to the market. This winter/spring there will be no fishing for lamprey and smelt – the important sources of income for the poor population of fishers in the Amur region.

  • Ecological (reduction of population of some species of ordinary, salmon and sturgeon fish, transformation of bacteria communities, decrease in capability of natural water purification, accumulation of polluted bottom sediment and the effect of secondary pollution of water). One of the worst scenarios is pollution of channels and former river-beds with considerable amount of hazardous chemicals, which may lead to high concentrations of pollutants and mass death of hydrocoles.

3. When will the natural environment of the river be restored at least to the former level?

As neither the exact composition nor the amount of the released chemicals nor dynamics of background pollution are known, the comprehensive evaluation of environmental impact is needed to answer the question. The restoration will take years and it will only be possible if international efforts are taken to improve the environmental situation in the basin.

4. Evaluation of Russian authorities’ activity.

The reaction of russian side to the accident has shown that many years of the “reform” of environmental services had no positive outcome. The successfully functioning laboratories of the State Environmental Committee were eliminated as the Committee was dismantled. The expensive equipment was dismantled or sent to non-core organizations. The most important – skilled specialist were lost and now Russia is asking China to send their experts to help to monitor nitrobenzene pollution.

There is simply no responsible agency capable to solve complex environmental problems within the country, let alone transboundary issues.
All efforts of the Russian side in the last month were aimed at the emergency preparation of municipal services system to soften the short term impact of the stain coming through Khabarovsk and other settlements rather than at solving serious and complicated environmental problems. We are not aware of any comprehensive plan from Russian side how to deal with ecological situation on Amur, while China already proposed such draft plan in November.

For many years blaming China for pollution, Russia itself did not establish any agreable environmental protection system on its own side. Russian government is lowering environmental standards for "dirty" industries to catch new opportunities on the market, but it cannot lead to improvments in the life of Far-East residents. Russian Far East becomes unprotected resouce-rich annex of growing economy of NE China.

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