Nizhnekamsk: undeclared social disaster at the turn of the century

41 years without own water, or How the capital of chemists decided to build SOV-NKNH

Just imagine a situation when day after day, for many years, not clean drinking water but a yellow or brown liquid that smells like chlorine runs from your tap in your apartment. And with this “water”, which, in addition to everything, disappears from time to time, you have to wash yourself and bathe children in it, wash clothes and cook. For 41 years, an entire city with a population of a quarter of a million had been forced to live this way. Moreover, the situation only got worse over time. How did the quality of tap water affect the health of Nizhnekamsk residents? And why did TAIF Group take an active part in solving the problem? Read the details in the material of Realnoe Vremya. Part 1.

Not water but a toxic mixture

“I've lived in Nizhnekamsk since my birth — the same age as the city. I was born even a little earlier," Elena Gatina, a member of the Public Council of the Nizhnekamsk municipal district, introduced herself with a smile. “When we filled the bath with water, the water could be even in different colours: green, rusty, and some other," she remembered one of the main local horrors of those times.

It is now the residents can drink the tap water without boiling. But at the beginning of this millennium (only 12 years ago), it was difficult to call what was running to apartments through pipelines drinking water. Moreover, it was unsafe. This is confirmed by the head of the territorial department of the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-Being (Rospotrebnadzor) of the Republic of Tatarstan in the Nizhnekamsk district and Nizhnekamsk, Rustem Iziyatullin, who has headed the service since 2005:

“Earlier, the water did not meet the requirements of the Sanitary Regulations and Standards (SanPiN). Moreover, I remember that in the '90s we had outbreaks of infectious diseases of aquatic nature. We investigated the outbreak and determined that E. coli transmission occurred through drinking water. A third of the water samples before the construction and commissioning of the SOV-NKNH were non-standard. That is, the water in one way or another contained the infection: this is E. coli, conditionally pathogenic microorganisms that report that this water may contain dysentery, salmonellosis, and other bacteria that cause infectious diseases.

Rustem Iziyatullin: “In the '90s, there were recorded outbreaks of infectious diseases in Nizhnekamsk due to tap water.” Photo: Albert Mulyukov

“The water that used to flow — it was yellow all the time. We knew that it was mechanically purified of impurities. But after a while — there was always a yellowish precipitate. And chlorine, too. Some patients even complained that when they washed, they even started sneezing from chlorine," Raisa Meryaseva, a Nizhnekamsk cardiologist, shared her memories.

“The water to Nizhnekamsk ran from Naberezhnye Chelny through two lines of water pipelines. They went through the industrial zone, where some of the water was taken away by enterprises, and the rest went to the city. But it was not enough and had to be mixed with technical clarified hyperchlorinated, that is, containing more chlorine, water. The colour was reduced, the water was decontaminated, and it turned out to be a rather toxic mixture, which... was not recommended to drink," Rustam Akhmetov recalled how it used to be in the interview with Realnoe Vremya. From the spring of 2007 to the beginning of 2018, he served as the director general of SOV-NKNH. Before that, he worked for a long time in the Department of Water Supply, Sewerage and Wastewater Treatment at Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC.

Rustam Akhmetov: “When mixing Naberezhnye Chelny's and technical water, a toxic mixture was obtained, which... was not recommended to drink.” Photo: R.D. Akhmetov

From Nizhnekamskneftekhim, but already from the construction committee, Razil Khasveeva — one of those who has worked at the station from the very beginning — came to work for SOV-NKNH. Then, 12 years ago, she was engaged in the technical documentation of the water treatment plant's facilities under construction and, like all citizens of Nizhnekamsk, was looking forward to its launch because the water she saw at home, turning on the tap, scared her:

“When I bathed my children, I poured water into the bath, and it was yellow. Hyperchlorinated, strongly odorous. It was scary to bath in it. How could we drink it?" the veteran of the enterprise recalls with horror.

Razilya Khasveeva: “It was scary even to bath in such water, not to mention drink it.” Photo: Albert Mulyukov

“I came to Nizhnekamsk with my parents when I was 15. In 1967. At first, we lived in a village. People used to take water from wells there. The water was good. Clean. Then we moved to Nizhnekamsk. After school, in the '70s, I went to work, got married and lived in Kirov. I returned to Nizhnekamsk in the '90s, and then the water running from the tap was just awful! It was yellow and smelling chlorine," Alevtina Irgalina told Realnoe Vremya.

“On the walls of the bathroom, as the water was poured, a dirty plaque formed. It was scary to bathe children and to wash themselves. When washing clothes both in the '80s and in the 2000s, it was difficult to achieve snow-white cleanliness even when boiling. But we didn't have options. We used it," Fayruza Manikhova, who led the Nizhnekamsk Pedagogical College until March 2019, told they had to live.

“I've lived in Nizhnekamsk since 1974 and never drunk water from the tap. We were told that it was dangerous to drink such water — it's technical water. It also differed in colour from the current one. But there was no other. And there were no filters. We either boiled or went to the springs," Nizhnekamsk old resident Maria Kolosova recalls how it was.

Those who had private cars, which was a rarity back then, could afford to bring more water, both to drink safely and to cook. Some even managed to bring home enough water to wash their clothes or wash. Those who had no transport had to rely on their own strength. Old residents of Nizhnekamsk remember how in summer they loaded flasks and canisters on carts and bicycles, in winter — on sledges, and went on a forced journey for 5-7 kilometres for spring water. There are not many keys relatively close to the city — only three or four, and it often happened there was a queue was for them, like in a store for a scarce product. People saw threatening signs that one can not drink water from springs without boiling first, but this water was still much cleaner than tap water. And they had to go for water several times a week, or even a day.

“It is today the water is good. Many people even drink it without boiling. Both in the '80s and '90s, the water was dreadful. Smelly. Red-black. The water was so that it had to be drained for half an hour to use it somehow. And it was still impossible to drink. In 2002, when I went to work for the Veterans' House, grandmothers and I fought for the quality of water. We even took this water for analysis. We brought a jar of water to the management of housing and communal services — against signature, and then they sent it to the laboratory. So even after some time, only the top was slightly lighter, below it was dirty terribly. The results came that it did not meet any standards it was to be," Daymya Meshcheryakova, who has lived in Nizhnekamsk for more than 40 years, shared her memories.

The epidemiological situation

The lack of quality drinking water had long been one of the key reasons for the unfavourable epidemiological situation in Nizhnekamsk. This situation persisted until 2007.

For example, the information reference 'On the sanitary and environmental situation in Nizhnekamsk district and Nizhnekamsk' for 2004 provides the data from the ministry of ecology of the Republic of Tatarstan for the period from 2001: “The overall incidence over the past 3 years has increased by 7,4%, including blood diseases — by 18,4%, stenocardia — by 78%, anemia — by 19%, heart diseases, myocardial infarction, bronchitis — by three times, chronic diseases of the tonsils and adenoids — by 2 times, etc. The use of low-quality drinking water led to an increase in the number of diseases of genitourinary system by 24%, urolithiasis — by 48%, and digestive system diseases — by 12%.”

How bad it was then can be understood from data for the same year 2004, which can be easily found in the open access on the Internet: “The quality of drinking water supplied to the population of Nizhnekamsk does not meet the requirements of the SanPiN 2.2.1/ by many indicators: colour, hardness, nitrates, iron content, residual chlorine, permanganate index, etc. According to the Sanitary and Epidemiological Supervision Centre (CGSEN), in Nizhnekamsk in 2004, 50,8% of the samples were found to be unsatisfactory in terms of sanitary and chemical indicators and 6,9% — in terms of microbiological indicators.”

There are people's lives behind the cold statistics: health problems, the need for expensive treatment, operations, and rehabilitation, which again requires proper conditions, including water quality. We are what we drink. The human body is 80% water. And if the body gets bad water, the complex system created by nature just fails.

“As for cardiovascular diseases, there is no direct connection with water, but there have become fewer gastrointestinal diseases after the launch of the water treatment plant. As well as allergic ones," Raisa Meryaseva shared observations.

Unbelievable, but true

“In the 50s, the development of oil fields, including one of the largest in the country — Romashkinskoye, was in full swing in the TASSR.‑­ However, there was no oil refining or petrochemistry in the republic.­ In 1958, the Council of Ministers of the USSR adopted two resolutions defining the creation of the Nizhnekamsk industrial district in the north-eastern part of the Tatar ASSR. Its centre was to be the largest petrochemical complex in Europe, producing new types of plastics, synthetic rubbers and hydrocarbon raw materials for further processing...” the city website of Nizhnekamsk shares the history of the formation of the city of petrochemists.

The problem with water supply was acutely felt at the initial stage of construction when youth groups began to gather from all over the Soviet Union in an open field near the village of Nizhnekamsk for the construction of the century — the petrochemical giant and the new city.

The problem with water supply was acutely felt at the initial stage of construction of Nizhnekamsk. Photo:

“There was no suitable drinking water in the area of Akhtuba, and no water at all. It was driven for 9 km by a tractor from Krasny Klyuch. The water carrier plied all day.­ The containers welded by the settlers from fragments of pipes had to be filled many times in order everyone had enough," the participants of the large-scale construction recalled. Back then, people thought the problems were temporary. But ... It's hard to believe, but neither in 1958, when it was decided to build Nizhnekamsk, nor in 1966, when it became clear that the city, which was to be spread out on the banks of the Kama River, would become home to almost a quarter of a million people, there was even no question of erecting its own water treatment plant in the city of petrochemists. The supply of water to both industries and the population was to be carried out via two 40-kilometre steel pipelines with a diameter of 1000 mm, extending from Naberezhnye Chelny — from the Belousovsky water intake.

1967 — the Nizhnekamsk petrochemical plant gave the country its first products. July 30 went down in history as the birthday of Nizhnekamskneftekhim. Housewarming is celebrated in the rapidly growing Nizhnekamsk. Schools, kindergartens, and shops are opening. The city is truly becoming residential, bustling with events. The first indigenous residents are born on this land.

More and more problems

With the growth of the city and production capacity, the shortage of tap water was felt more and more strongly. All the more so as the steel of the pipelines connecting the automative city and the petrochemical capital was destroying, the internal surfaces were clogged with rust and suspension, in some places — rotted to weld holes and required more and more attention.

“When water was transported through iron pipes, chlorine reacted with iron and chlorine iron was obtained — a rather aggressive chemical compound that corroded the pipes," said Rustem Iziyatullin. As a result, the process of rusting was accelerated, soil got in the resulting cracks and breaks, some of the water — just went into the ground, and the loss fell on the shoulders of users. And the water that still reached the factories and houses was generously flavoured with rust and dirt.

The steel of pipelines connecting the automotive city and the petrochemical capital was dilapidating. Photo:

“When transporting water from Naberezhnye Chelny to Nizhnekamsk, there were large losses. Besides, there were serious difficulties with the repair of these networks. Even such moments took place that we had to negotiate for quite serious money with landowners for access to pipelines: they said, “you will dig up now, you will destroy the harvest...” So, these two branches from Naberezhnye Chelny were not enough. They could no longer fully provide drinking water," Rustam Akhmetovrecalls the situation that developed at the turn of the century and millennia.

At a certain stage, they had to take unpopular measures. They are also mentioned in open sources: “The water for the population of Nizhnekamsk is supplied from the Kama River through the Belous water intake in Naberezhnye Chelny and technical water intake through the networks of Water, Sewage and Electric Industry SUE in Nizhnekamsk (in 2004, the enterprise delivered 22,808 million cubic metres of water to the water supply of the city), as well as through its own intake on the Kama River Vodokanal for water supply of the settlement of Kamskie Polyany (1,94 million cubic metres of water). In total, 24,748 million cubic metres of water were delivered to the population of Nizhnekamsk district in 2004. Due to that there is not enough drinking water supplied through the Belous water intake, the drinking water supply system is also replenished from the technical water intake networks on the Kama River in the amount of 5,9 million cubic metres. In 2004, the use of process water in the drinking water supply system in Nizhnekamsk was 25,8%.”

Due to that there was not enough drinking water supplied through the Belous water intake, the system was replenished from the technical water intake networks on the Kama River. Photo:

This is the same clarified hyperchlorinated process water. As it is known, a bad apple can easily spoil the whole barrel. But what if the apple is a quarter of the whole volume? In an attempt to solve the problem, the city and republic leaders considered various options. For example, they tried to at least partially solve the problem of supplying the city's population with drinking water using artesian wells. For this work, a unit of the former ministry of land reclamation and water management of the TASSR was involved, and dozens of wells were drilled. This is despite that it was very difficult to obtain permission to carry out such works within the boundaries of the locality, and the depth of the aquifer in this area is very high. Later the idea had to be abandoned: the reserves of artesian water near Nizhnekamsk were too small, and the high hardness made it unsafe. Given the low quality of Kama water (and its purity was seriously affected by many industries upstream: the most powerful petrochemical complex in Perm, closed production facilities in Votkinsk and Tchaikovsky, the powerful industry in Bashkortostan), even the purchase of industrial water treatment plants that can turn seawater into freshwater was proposed. But this option was not only too complex and expensive to perform, but also did not solve the problem. After such a deep purification, the water brought to the distilled state must be mineralized again. Otherwise, the use of such liquid can lead to the leaching of useful trace elements from the body, which in turn can lead to the development of heart and vascular diseases, bone fragility and a decrease in hormone production.

The decision is taken!

Back in 1996, the management of Nizhnekamsk decided to design and build a water treatment plant to provide the city with clean drinking water. The construction was started near the village of Ilyinka. But because of the lack of funds and insufficient organization of construction work, the work was at a standstill. Only more than two years later, with the personal support and control of the first president of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiev, the problem began to be solved. On 28 January 1999, the decree of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Tatarstan 'On the reconstruction of the water treatment plant of the third water lift and water supply system in Nizhnekamsk' was issued.

It was assumed that several sources of financing would be involved in the construction: the republican budget was ready to take over 40%, the remaining 60% — by the enterprises and organizations of Nizhnekamsk. The customer was to be Nizhnekamskneftekhim, part of TAIF Group. It is worth noting that the resolution of the republican government for No. 32 was issued just four months after the August (1998) four-fold collapse of the ruble, that is, at a time when it would seem inappropriate not only to talk but also to think about the beginning of some new construction. But, nevertheless, it happened. It was quite clear that the complex had no available funds, and even the necessary resources to solve a problem of this scale. But it was also impossible to postpone the main issue for every Nizhnekamsk citizen at that time. everyone understood this: the republican authorities, the city administration, and businesses. TAIF decided to mobilize all possible resources, financial and human, and complete the task at any cost.

The following part of the article will tell you how the city was building the much-needed facility and what role of TAIF Group and Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC played in solving the problem of supplying the petrochemical capital of Tatarstan with high-quality drinking water.

By Arseny Favstritsky, Lilia Yegorova