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September, 27, 2018

What Can Be Done with the Legacy of the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill?

It was easier to close the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill than to remove the damage done by it to Lake Baikal.

The world - social workers, scientists, production workers and government officials – united their efforts to decide what to do with the waste stored on the former production territories at the end of September.

Public hearings were held in a tense atmosphere. The problem has been set long ago and clearly: up to six million cubic meters of lignin sludge are still buried in industrial trenches-sedimentation basins that are located on the Solzansky and Babkhinskiy landfills on the coast of the lake.

Reference: Lignin is a substance characterizing of stiff walls of plant cells.

The mill was closed five years ago, but the waste management works are still at an early stage. During this time, 1.3 billion roubles have already been allocated for the preparation of the reclamation of contaminated territories, but the waste disposal works are not even going to start in foreseeable future. This year, another 1.4 billion roubles have been allocated, but the money have not been completely used. At the same time, the representative of the regional Ministry of Natural Resources, Valentin Borodenko, noted that the cost of lignin sludge disposal amounted to 5.9 billion roubles. In accordance with the agreement on granting subsidies to Irkutsk Oblast, federal budget funds account for 79% of funds, and those of the regional budget – for 21%.

There is only one achievement so far: a tender procedure for waste removal has been conducted, the organization that will engage in this activity has been determined. This company is “Rosgeologia” represented by its subordinate branch - “RG-Geologia” LLC. Now this organization is assessing the scope of works: it drains the water, determines the hazard class and toxicity of water in the sedimentation basins of the former BPPM. The difficulty is that it is needed to examine the composition of the waste in each of the sedimentation basins, because up to 14 kinds of substances were put into them: these substances have been accumulating during half a century. In addition to the lignin sludge itself, these were coal ash from the CHPP, wood bark, construction and other household waste. The technology of waste disposal will be chosen based on the results of these examinations only at the end of November.

Quite unexpectedly, the problem of waste removal became a pain in the neck for the residents of Shelekhovsky district. During hearings it was revealed that “RG-Geologia” owned 247 hectares of the territory near to the settlement of Moty. The residents of Moty claim that they are not only afraid for themselves: lignin can get to the Irkut River and be carried upstream to the regional center. However, the First Deputy General Director of “RG-Geologia” Gleb Pisarev assured that the land of Shelekhovsky district would remain untouched by lignin – according to the terms of the agreement, the waste can be taken out only to specialized landfills, whereas the land plot in Moty is not a landfill. Gleb Pisarev comforted the locals and said that the customers would provide a list of landfills, and their organization would choose the safest one.

Public hearings have been attended by the representatives of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Irkutsk Oblast, “Rosgeologia” JSC, the scientists of the Irkutsk Scientific Center of SB RAS and Irkutsk universities, experts of design organizations, public figures and residents of Baikalsk. As a result of the discussion, recommendations for the government of the region and the contractor have been formulated.

Is Lake Baikal Threatened with New Pollution?

First of all, there are such risks. For example, permanent mudflows passing by the village of Solzan can destroy toxic waste storage facilities. This is a threat of new pollution for Baikal. Therefore, public figures offer the representatives of the regional authorities to design and urgently implement a set of anti-mudflow events in the potentially dangerous area. Secondly, the regional government needs to engage in the design and reconstruction of waste treatment facilities in Baikalsk. Then it will be possible to use them to clean up a part of the evacuated waters of the Solzansky and Babkhinsky landfills, which is a prerequisite for the beginning of industrial processing of the bulk of lignin.

The scientists advised the regional authorities to abandon the option of removal of BPPM waste beyond the boundaries of the central ecological zone of Lake Baikal. This option is too expensive; besides, the removal process technology is not developed well enough. In addition, it has not been coordinated with environmental activists and local authorities who may have their own opinions and objections.

It would also be a right decision to study the experience of industrial chemical waste processing belonging to other organizations that have faced similar problems, for example, the experience of reclamation of lignin accumulations by the Selenginsk Pulp and Cardboard Mill. It would be reasonable to involve the Russian developers of the technology of lignin sludge disposal in these works, so that they could engage in experimental-industrial testing of these technologies at the Solzansky and Babkhinskiy landfills of the BPPM.

What Can Be Expected in the Future?

Members of the public suggested that the Government of the region should develop a comprehensive plan. It is needed to upgrade the territories of the abandoned Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill, as well as the adjacent areas of the town of Baikalsk. The plan should provide for the reconstruction of urban water treatment facilities and Baikalsk Central Heating and Power Plant, decontamination of equipment and industrial site, dismantling of the BPPM structures and processing of the accumulated pollution caused by the mill’s activities.

It is planned to hold the next hearings on the subject “The Current State of Affairs in the Reclamation of Accumulated Waste of BPPM” next year, and the works are to be completed in 2020. However, skeptics already state that the completion of works by the designated date is hardly probable due to the huge volume of lignin and technical complexity of the works...

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