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Experts detect high mercury levels in sewage water from closed Siberian chemical plant

In sewage waters, the concentration of mercury was 33,000 times above the TLV
Usolyekhimprom plant Vladmir Baikalsky/TASS
Usolyekhimprom plant
© Vladmir Baikalsky/TASS

MOSCOW, August 1. /TASS/. Samples of sewage water taken from the premises of the closed Usolyekhimprom chemical plant near the Siberian town of Usolye-Sibirskoye revealed that the concentration of mercury there was 33,000 times above the threshold limit value (TLV), sources in local environmental and technical control agencies told TASS on Saturday.

"Samples taken on the territory of the Usolyekhimprom plant reveal that the concentration of mercury in air was 367 times above the threshold limit value (TLV), of benzol - 5.2 times. In sewage waters, the concentration of mercury was 33,000 times above the TLV, oil products - 3,000 times, iron - 190 times, copper - 22 times, phosphates - 5,000 times," the source said.

Soil samples showed the presence of mercury (32 times above the TLV), lead - 629 times, oil products - 8.7 times, zinc - 5.4 times, copper - 21 times.

According to preliminary information, the mercury electrolysis facility, operational between 1970 and 1998, was the most likely source of the contamination. At the moment it was closed, about 1,200 metric tonnes of mercury were stored there.

Other sections of the plant have also been identified as potentially dangerous.

Besides, 24 reservoirs with dangerous chemicals, some with unknown contents, still remain in the facility. Their owner is also unknown.

Usolyekhimprom, once the biggest chemical facility east of the Urals mountains, became a source of environmental danger since its closure in 2005. Since 2018, the state of emergency has been in place in the nearby town of Usolye-Sibirskoye, home to more than 76,000 inhabitants. The town is located 77 km away from the regional administrative center of Irkutsk, on the left bank of the Angara River that drains out of Lake Baikal.

On July 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin tasked to isolate the industrial site in Usolye-Sibirskoe as soon as practicable. The access to hazardous facilities for individuals should also be closed, so that they do not put their life and health at risk, Putin said. The situation in Usolye-Sibirskoe requires urgent and comperehensive measures in general, the President added.

Russian Investigative Committee Chairman Alexander Bastrykin ordered to carry out a pre-investigation check into environmental issues of Usolye-Sibirskoye.