What stinks in Nizhnekamsk?

Nizhnekamskneftekhim has invested in environmental protection almost 22 billion rubles in the last five years

Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC has been responsible for not only treatment of its own sewage but also purification of sewage of a hundred other users, including the city itself, since its foundation, which is over 50 years. Moreover, the company is constantly accused of unpleasant smells in the petrochemical capital. Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent tried to find out if these claims had foundation or it was easier to hit a mountain with a stone, so to speak.

Almost 350 ecological measures from 2014 to 2018

Ecological well-being is at the moment probably one of the key components of modern society’s life. From this perspective, Nizhnekamsk is special: the city itself appeared more than half a century ago only because the future petrochemical mogul — Nizhnekamskneftekhim — began to be built next to it, on the riverbank. Blocks of flats were erected, families of those who intended to link their fate with the production of petrochemicals, rubbers, plastics, polyethylene moved in the new flats… And the issue of as careful as possible attitude to the environment was already raised then. Temporary treatment or, more precisely, retention basins for urban sewage, which appeared simultaneously with the construction of the city, didn’t distinguish as eco-friendly: open reservoirs close to Shipbuilding Grove and the maze where desperately “fragrant” slush settled where chlorine was poured in for disinfection. And in the end, the result flew into the Kama River through a pipe.

Normal treatment facilities and tanks that carried contaminated sewage were put into operation in 1966. They weren’t perfect either, but they performed their mission decently for that time. Time went by. Production capacities increased, the city grew and developed with it. The first treatment facilities didn’t cope with the amount of sewage any more, and the BTF were modernised in 1976, their capacity rose almost fourfold — from 56,000 to 213,000 cubic metres a day. In 1988, a new tank Chemically Contaminated Sewage Tank 2 at a distance of several kilometres from the residential area was laid, as the existing tank for transportation of chemically contaminated sewage was under residential microdistricts exploring new territories.

In 1988, the chemically contaminated sewage tank closed, and the new chemically contaminated sewage tank appeared several kilometres far from the city

From 2014 to 2018, Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC took about 350 ecological measures equal to 5,04 billion rubles, and total costs on environmental protection amounted to 22 billion rubles. Other regional programmes have a much smaller scale. The fourth consecutive ecological programme is already implemented, within which the biggest modernisation in history of bio-treatment facilities is coming to an end: a modern line of sewage treatment was launched in 2016, a new line of mechanical chemically contaminated sewage treatment line is launched this year.

60 million cubic metres a year

Today’s Nizhnekamsk stopped being a monotown a long time ago: apart from Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC, TAIF-NK JSC and CHPP-1, which comes under TGC-16 JSC, tens of other companies operate and develop here — TANECO, KAMA TYRES, Nizhnekamsktekhugelrod, SG-trans, Prettl-NK, Chelny-Broiler, Pioneer Industrial Park, Nizhnekamsk Ironworks Factory and others.

According to Director of the Water Supply, Drainage and Sewage Treatment Administration at Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC Sergey Boyarkin, the Nizhnekamsk Biological Treatment Facilities have 62 sewage agreements at the moment. Over 164,000 cubic metres of contaminated sewage, or 60 million cubic metres a year, get to the BTF daily.

“It is the sewage that comes from industrial enterprises through a tank for chemically contaminated sewage and sewage that comes from the urban tank. We have an agreement with Vodokanal water supplier and everyone who urban Vodokanal is responsible for are their users,” Boyarkin explained.

Sergey Boyarkin: “The Nizhnekamsk Biological Treatment Facilities have 62 sewage agreements at the moment”. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Second BTF reconstruction stage: launch in August

The second stage of reconstruction of biological treatment facilities of Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC has been almost completed. The official launch of the upgraded line of mechanical chemically contaminated sewage treatment will take place in August already.

“The construction has already ended, and test and trials are taking place. The equipment’s adjustment is also over. The reception room is the first stage of treatment of chemical sewage. Then it is a pool to collect polymer chips where polymers from the previous recovery will be caught. Then it is radial sand separators with pumps for sand pulp. Contaminated air stripping with its further treatment is the next stage. Then after the aerators, the sewage will be sent to chemical sewage retention basins where additional treatment will take place,” head of the Shop No. 3406 of the Water Supply, Drainage and Sewage Treatment Administration at Nizhnekamskneftekhim Mikhail Romanov explained.

Mikhail Romanov: “The construction has already ended, and test and trials are taking place. The equipment’s adjustment is also over.” Photo: Maksim Platonov

“The full reconstruction of treatment facilities is aimed to treat sewage from major contaminations according to which sewage is rationed before discharging into superficial water bodies. We went further: together with sewage treatment, a technology for purification of air emissions was created for our requirements and introduced to provide a better state of the environment close to the treatment facilities,” Vice Senior Technologist of Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC Guzel Gilayeva explained.

In other words, contaminated air passes through special filters that catch contamination in the air on a biofilm, and the flow goes into the environment only after full treatment. Clean air goes into the atmosphere without any impurities and smells.

Guzel Gilayeva: “Together with sewage treatment, a technology for purification of air emissions was created for our requirements and introduced.” Photo: Maksim Platonov

“We were the only in Russia in 2016”

Units to treat contaminated air were installed in sewage, that’s to say, urban sewage treatment on the line. The reconstruction of this line was completed in 2016.

“At this moment, such a line in Russia was unique. Our racks have a double treatment system, rough and fine. In addition, they all are self-cleaning,” Mikhail Romanov took Realnoe Vremya’s journalist on a short excursion.

The reconstruction of the first stage of the BTF — sewage treatment — was completed in 2016. Photo: Roman Khasayev

Incoming sewage is cleaned off rough wastes, which is then handed over to a specialised organisation. The equipment allows removing mechanical impurities from sewage — soil and sand. The air from the rooms where the treatment equipment is installed is purified of stinky impurities, which are characteristic of sewage, and only then it goes to the environment. After preliminary mechanical treatment, sewage goes to into the mixer and is united with chemical sewage and sent to the main stage — biological active sludge treatment. Active sludge is a complex eco-system including tens of types of bacteria each of which is able to disintegrate and process impurities. At the end of the treatment, water goes back to the Kama River, which is cleaner than the water in the river itself in a number of indicators. So the water cycle comes to an end, from intake for urban water supply, including for drinking and manufacturing needs, and treatment of contaminated sewage in biological treatment facilities.

Secondary basins. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Not all is that smooth

There is no complaint about the treatment of chemically contaminated sewage in the BTF — the technology was improved and carefully examined, the quality and character of contamination of incoming sewage are well known, and its processing isn’t a problem. But the city has “surprises”.

“An analytic lab works in our biological treatment facilities around the clock, up to 50 samples are taken and 170 analyses are done daily, and from time to time we write down cases when the level of allowed contamination of sewage coming through sewage tanks, including chemical oxygen consumption and other indicators,” Boyarkin said.

Oil products are sometimes found in sewage, which shouldn’t be in communal tanks. It is quite logical that complaints about a chemical smell in the city began to come from the population of Nizhnekamsk. But the reaction of both the population and representatives of the urban administration isn’t logical. Without looking into the situation and that Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s sewage can’t be in the city, as the chemically contaminated sewage tank is located outside the city. And without even trying to realise the fact that there are enough oil processing and petrochemical enterprises on the territory of the municipality without NKNK, precisely Nizhnekamskneftekhim begins to be accused of all troubles.

170 analyses are done daily in the BTF, the cases when the level of allowed contaminations of sewage are registered, and oil contaminants are found in urban sewage. Photo: Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC press service

“Our company is one of the leading enterprises, and most people have heard about it, this is why who should be blamed if not NKNK? However, this issue is complex anyway. It can’t be considered from one angle. We have repeatedly talked about it at meetings at different levels both in the Ministry of Ecology and the city administration. There might be a number of reasons for why the unpleasant smells appear. Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s laboratory has addressed the population’s complaints, samples were taken. Unpleasant smells were found, but their origins weren’t linked with NKNK. For instance, there is no smell on the border of the sanitary and protection zone, which goes along the city’s suburbs, while there were smells in the city itself. We’ve repeatedly drawn the attention of responsible structures that there are such troubled areas such the site of Stroyindustria base, the so-called BCG, there is a site of our Stroiteley settlement where a lot of enterprises work, which can also be sources of the unpleasant smell. Cisterns are processed with steam and washed, and fuel is prepared. All sewage from this activity goes to the urban tanks, and they aren’t considered at all,” Vice Senior Engineer at Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC on Environmental Protection Andrey Rubezhov outlined the situation.

Andrey Rubezhov: “Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s laboratory has gone out because of the population’s complaints, samples were taken. Unpleasant smells were found, but their origins weren’t linked with NKNK.” Photo: Maksim Platonov

In addition, some dishonest producers simply take liquid industrial waste away and dispose of them in the closest manhole not to pay utility bills. There are abandoned tanks as well. De jure, they belong to neither the city nor producers, but they are actively used.

The biological treatment facilities accept urban sewage where the area of responsibility splits. Everything above (while sewage goes to the biological treatment facilities on its own, that’s to say, without any equipment and possibility to influence the speed and direction of liquid’s direction) belongs to the city, and the city must keep it in order, have protection from illegal penetration and unconsidered, often dangerous sewage. There is no due control so far, which the cases of the appearance of smells and impurities turning urban sewage almost into industrial sewage prove. Oil products stick to the racks by reducing their effectiveness.

Air tanks are the heart of the biological treatment facilities where biological sewage treatment takes place. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Nizhnekamskneftekhim has repeatedly tried to draw the attention of the public and authorities to the problem. We can’t say that there hasn’t been any reaction to the petrochemists’ letters and addresses: information was taken into account, the prosecutor’s office had inspections and detected violations. Lawbreaking enterprises were held accountable and fined. But the situation hasn’t dramatically changed for several years already.

“The city has probably had a stereotype since the foundation of Nizhnekamskneftekhim during over these 50 years. It is no secret that NKNK has always been a monopolist when it comes to tax payment, participation in social programmes, and citizens understand only one thing: the word “chemistry” is immediately associated with Neftekhim. People don’t realise that there is a tyre plant, black carbon plant, TANECO, pumpjacks around the city in the end, and tens, hundreds of small chemical enterprises. The city immediately associates the word “smell” with chemistry, and chemistry is NKNK. I think citizens already should understand that there are other companies that can cause the unpleasant smell in our city besides Nizhnekamskneftekhim,” thinks Sergey Boyarkin.

Sergey Boyarkin: “I think citizens already should understand that there are other companies that can cause the unpleasant smell in our city besides Nizhnekamskneftekhim”. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Time to make it clear

Baseless accusations without any foundation can tire anyone. Especially if this “anyone” invests billions of rubles without any hope to get them back, spends time and effort to make the environment cleaner and people’s life better, many of whom work in TAIF Group’s companies.

To make it clear why it stinks in Nizhnekamsk, Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC offers the administration of the city and public activists to invite specialists from the Ministry of Ecology, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resource Usage and create a joint commission to find out the origin of the unpleasant smells in Nizhnekamsk. And having found the guilty it offers to give them an exemplary punishment so that they will stop causing the unpleasant smell and others will learn a lesson.

By Arseny Favstritsky