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What’s up in the air that Moscow people have to inhale?

December 03, 2014, 17:26 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© TASS/EPA/SERGEI ILNITSKY

MOSCOW, December 3. /TASS/. On Tuesday, December 2, Moscow had at least some snowfall that promptly lent the city its customary wintertime look and made the air much cleaner. The just-ended month of November had been a true ecological nightmare the lasting anti-cyclone was making still worse.

Moscow has never been famous for clean and fresh air, but the just-ended autumn will surely be remembered for a long while for the string of unpleasant odors that took turns over the city. The authorities offered a variety of reasons why the air was sometimes hardly breathable. The Russian weather-watching service Roshydromet mentioned an escape of some waste gases in the Lyublino neighborhood. The nature conservation watchdog Rosprirodnadzor officially said that oil refineries and gas regeneration facilities or some thermo-electric power plants were to blame, while the Emergencies Ministry reported some problems at Moscow’s oil refinery south of the city just outside the MKAD beltway circling the city.

As a result, the content of hydrogen sulphide in Moscow air at the end of November was five times above the tolerance limit. The absence of wind made things even worse. On November 10, the smell of rotten eggs was said to have been sensed in the very center of Moscow.

Independent analysts believe it was nothing but a man-made escape, but no one has claimed responsibility to this day.

Toward the end of November, the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide in Moscow went up by 50%, and that of carbon dioxide, doubled. Environmental specialists blamed the hazardous haze on the anti-cyclone that kept the nitrogen oxides in the lower layers of the atmosphere.

The problems have fomented public interest in ecological matters again. “To cut a long story short, what we saw last November is very good,” the daily Kommersant quotes Alexander Kuksa, the technical director of the association of independent laboratories Test-Eco, as saying. “Moscow people have at last stopped to think what there is in the air that they inhale, and began to look for the causes. This is a sure sign of tremendous environmental protection setbacks the Moscow authorities have permitted.”

Most ecologists agree that irrespective of the man-made disasters and the incineration of trimmed branches and scrap timber, motor vehicles discharge more than 90% of pollutants in Moscow air. The exhaust fumes situation in Moscow is far worse than, say, in European or US cities, because there are still too many old Euro-3 and Euro-2 vehicles.

“The services responsible do practically nothing to monitor hazardous exhausts and the technical condition of automobiles,” the board chairman of the Russian Ecological Center Valery Petrov told TASS. “Before, far more attention was paid to the vehicles’ technical condition during routine condition checks.” He believes that introducing charges for driving into the city for vehicles registered elsewhere might improve the situation somewhat.

The expert complains that the “ecological police” now exists only in name, and not in status.

On the one hand, major industrial facilities in Moscow are being closed down, which helps ease air pollution, but on the other, instead of converting the vacated plots of land to public gardens and parks, the authorities let developers build commercial housing.

Petrov said the green space per capita standard in Moscow is grossly abused. “Instead of planting trees and gardens they have clad Moscow in asphalt,” he said.

And lastly one more factor contributing to the quality of air in the city — the existence of large dumping grounds around Moscow and the problem of how to dispose of solid household waste. “For now the quality of air in Moscow leaves much to be desired,” Petrov said.

ITAR-TASS may not share the opinions of its contributors