Ufa in Russia’s top most polluted cities: citizens complain, enterprises liable to fines

The air pollution problem is solved in the capital of Bashkiria, one of the proposals is to install sensors in enterprises’ pipes

Ufa in Russia’s top most polluted cities: citizens complain, enterprises liable to fines
Photo: bazhneft.ru

Ufa has recently been in the lead of air pollution ratings in Russia. The problem was discussed at Bashkortostan’s council during the first meeting of the task force that oversees the compliance with legislation in air protection. This summer a lot of citizens complained about unpleasant chemical smells and headaches. Large industrial enterprises were suspected of excessive emissions. However, it wasn’t possible to find the sources and punish the guilty. Read in Realnoe Vremya’s report how Bashkortostan plans to fix the problem.

Oil refineries provide the negative picture

In industrial emissions into the environment, Ufa ranked eighth and is in Russia’s top 10 most polluted cities. Head of Russia’s environmental watchdog Svetlana Radionova provided this data.

The emissions produced by Ufa’s industrial enterprises is 142,000 tonnes a year. There is a way to go to the leader of the rating — Norilsk — with the indicator reaching 1,8 million tonnes. In Cherepovets, the runner-up, the amount of emissions is 280,000 tonnes.

According to Minister of Environment and Natural Resource Management of Bashkortostan Ural Iskandarov, the biggest number of petitions from citizens about chemical smells in the air was registered in July 2021. The Ministry of Environment counted more than a thousand petitions during the second summer month.

“The anomalously hot summer this year was accompanied by recurrent rises in the maximum allowable concentration in the air. In Ufa, it is an excessive amount of hydrogen sulphide and carbon oxide. The number of complaints suddenly reduced in September, after comfortable not hot weather started to reign. 87 complaints were made in September. Our republic is an economically developed industrial region. Oil refineries provide us with the most negative picture,” the minister noted.

What tasks does the task force perform?

Vice Chairman of the State Council of the Republic of Bashkortostan (named Kurultay in Bashkir), head of a recently created task force to monitor the compliance with legislation in air protection in the Republic of Bashkortostan Rustam Ishmukhametov said that the significant rise in the number of complaints about polluted air didn’t go unnoticed.

“Communities are created on social media where precisely this problem is discussed. The tasks of our task force are to evaluate the situation and find systemic solutions together with other ministries. The task force will oversee compliance with legislation in air protection. Proposals for updating the current norms will be created as a result.”

Rustam Ishmukhametov paid attention to the fact a series of issues in environmental protection require solutions and new approaches:

“Representatives of supervisory agencies cite the difficulties with inspections in industrial factories. If needed, we will make legislative offers in the State Duma.”

We feel but detect nothing

The Bashkir office of hydrometeorology and environmental monitoring notes that though there is constant control over the air quality, the poor infrastructure doesn’t allow tracking excess amounts of all dangerous substances.

“In nine months of 2021, there were registered exceeded allowable concentrations in Ufa in February, March. These maximum allowable concentrations were within 1-2. As for the change in the list of monitored substances, for this purpose, it is necessary to have information about gross emissions of enterprises, about the contribution of enterprises to these emissions. Such data used to be available earlier, now enterprises don’t publish it. Even if we know most substances the enterprises emit, we must have the possibility of analysing and detecting them. But the existing methods our office has don’t allow doing this. It is necessary to equip control stations with gas sensors, but it is quite a costly process. In Ufa, we have data only on four substances. Emissions are made at night, and if you wake up in the morning, there is a grey cloud on the horizon if the sky is clear, there is a veil,” explains the office’s director Vilora Gorokholskaya.

So even considerable rises in the maximum allowable concentration of many dangerous substances cannot be registered because of the absence of the necessary gadgets. State Council deputy Rufina Shagapova thinks the situation is outrageous:

“People feel, people asphyxiate. There were complaints from Chernikovka during the whole summer. While the Bashkir office of hydrometeorology and environmental monitoring simply cannot have objective information because they don’t have such capabilities. Today we understand that there is a problem, people complain, but the Bashkir office doesn’t take those components we are interested in for a test. Air sensors that will be available for people online are necessary.”

Vilora Gorokholskaya thinks that monitoring isn’t a solution but making the problem public. While it is necessary to act specifically to have the possibility of detecting sources of violations.

“Order No. 524 of the Ministry of Environment envisages the development of not only state monitoring in the person of the Russian Hydrometeorological Centre but also local systems in enterprises, territorial systems. Sensors are installed at pollution sources, might they give information which pipe makes emissions online. Then they can be fined for violations via Russia’s environmental watchdog,” offers the head of Bashkir office of hydrometeorology and environmental monitoring.

Holistic environmental permits will help

Vice Director of the branch of the watchdog’s Centre for Laboratory Analysis and Technical Measurements Alexey Krapukhin agreed that the organisation of monitoring offered just the current picture, while it is at times simply impossible to determine the source of pollution.

“We do our work in absolute accordance with federal legislation. And we have certain time limits. In 99,9% of cases, this fact cannot be registered from the moment of receiving a complaint from citizens, registering necessary documents, going to the site.”

The companies will have the obligation of installing automated systems to analyse industrial emissions. Photo: gazprom.ru

Alexey Krapukhin also noted that enterprises with the most dangerous emissions will be obliged to submit documents to obtain holistic environmental permits in the next few years, which include the installation of emission monitoring systems.

“Our Ufavodokanal water service and three oil refineries are obliged to obtain the permits by January 2023. Other first-category enterprises are obliged to obtain the permits by 2025. This process isn’t fast and cheap. Those enterprises that understand this joined the work today. The companies will have the obligation of installing automatic systems to analyse those industrial emissions they will declare in their environmental permit. Then everything, any emissions, any emergency from the very beginning will be seen. It is a live picture that will enable to respond very quickly in case of accidents.”

Alexey Krapukhin notes that it is necessary to stimulate enterprises to install sensors. According to him, the amount of fines for violating environmental norms seriously went up in price:

“Look at the numbers there. It is crazy numbers. No enterprise, even the richest one, will be able to bounce back after such a blow.”

Emil Ziyangirov
Bashkortostan