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These brown Mondi “masses”

Михаил Казанцев
Михаил Казанцев

A multinational company operating in Komi destroys its own image.

A video shot on the bank of the Vychegda River instantly spread in social media last fall. An unappetizing light brown substance in large quantities was floating in a river in the vicinity of Syktyvkar. The source of sewage was discovered very quickly – this is the timber industry plant Mondi Syktyvkar, a subsidiary of multinational Mondi Group. The enterprise constantly manifests its commitment to high environmental standards and until recently it managed to prove this commitment well enough. But then the real thunder broke out, instead of showing “eco-orientation” in the case, Mondi, to put it mildly, did not do everything that should have been done in the current situation.

It all started on October 25 last year, when a resident of the village of Zelenets, Yevgeny Uskov, found an obviously foreign ”glue-like” substance in Vychegda. Uskov not only made a video of the find, but also collected its samples and handed it over for examination. This substance was identified as tallow oil. From two to three cubic meters of it accumulated on the territory of the enterprise, and then, as Mondi reported later, “unintentionally” got through the sewer into the river…

What's that and what it is for

Turning to open sources we learn: tallow oil is a yellow or light brown liquid with a sharp characteristic smell, which is a mixture of organic compounds, mainly unsaturated and fatty acids; the product of sulfuric acid treatment of sulfate soap, obtained as a by-product when cooking cellulose by the sulfate method. However, what was found in Vychegda was more like “masses” rather than a liquid – a thick, lumpy substance that evokes an unpleasant association with physiological properties.

Tallow oil emits toxic gases in a fire, and you may not resort to chemical sources, but just watch the video – it does not dissolve in water (perhaps this makes it easier to collect).

Tallow oil is used as a raw material in soap and paint production, as a reagent in mineral processing and as a component of lubricants and coolants.

The Center for Laboratory Analysis and Technical Measurements in Komi (CLATI) conducted an examination of samples of tallow oil dumped in Vychegda. According to the results of testing, the waste samples are classified as the second hazard class, that is highly hazardous waste. An independent chemical examination also showed that the product dumped into the river contains a substance of the second class of danger, namely, abietic acid. It is dangerous for the aquatic environment: toxic to flora and fauna with long-term effects. The abietic acid content in the sample was 7%, that is about 200 kg in the total weight of the discharge. In addition to abietic acid, the sample contained its analogues – neoabietic and dehydroabietic acids. The toxicity of the latter is also proven.

Are communications outside of modernization?

Already on October 26 – the day after Yevgeny Uskov's spoiled walk – representatives of the environmental organization “Vychegda Protection Committee” filed an application to the Syktyvkar Environmental Prosecutor's Office on the fact of pollution of the river. And on October 27, employees of CLATI, the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Komi Republic, Fish Protection and some other departments, journalists, as well as a senior researcher of the Komi Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences Roman Vasilevich (a deputy of the Syktyvkar Council), conducted a joint inspection of the Vychegda watercourse from the village of Nizhny Chov to the village of Zelenets in order to accurately identify the source of pollution.

The inspection found that the source of the river pollution is the release of Mondi in Ezhva district, and the oily substrate got into the water from the release of the enterprise's thermal power plant (TPP).

So, that was TPP… Let's go back 3.5 years before the incident. Then, in May 2017, Moтdi launched an ambitious program of modernization of the thermal power plant with an investment of 100 million euros. Then the reviewer Sergey Paramonov, whose awareness of this issue is not in doubt, reacted: “In the Komi Republic, a project of a scale that we have not seen for seven years has begun” (the author hinted at one of the previous Mondi projects). By the beginning of the modernization of  the TPP, it was 51 years old, and it was hard to disagree with the Mondi Syktyvkar general director Klaus Peller, who noted: “Our power plant has deserved a full-fledged modernization program”.

It turns out that the communications of the TPP were left out of the modernization?.. Or is the program so “large-scale” (we continue to believe Sergey Paramonov) that it has stretched out and has not yet reached the pipelines?

Meanwhile

The conclusions of the above-mentioned inspection were difficult to dispute, and Mondi admitted its involvement in the fact of pollution of the river, as well as the fact that the discharge “took place in the period from October 21, 2020”. So why did the company wait for almost a week without immediately announcing the incident, which would be excellent proof of “eco-orientation”?.. Besides, a creepy guess arises. And what if citizen Uskov had not appeared on the Vychegda bank?..

Most likely, the concealment of the fact of the incident, as well as it itself, intentional or unintentional, is on the conscience of an ordinary employee who did not report the incident to his superiors. If so, then let the timber complex head managers answer a simple question: how is the ******* who covered up the incident and thereby framed the enterprise punished?

Starting from March 3, the Ezhva District Court has been considering two cases – on the fact of violation of the requirements for the protection of water bodies (part 4 of Article 8.13 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation) and on the fact of concealing or distorting environmental information (Article 8.5 of the Administrative Code).

Recognizing the fact of dumping tallow oil, Mondi Syktyvkar does not agree that pollution has had and in the future may have a negative impact on water bodies, biological resources and human health.

Plaintiffs insist that having recognized the pollution of the river only on October 27, Mondi thereby endangered the inhabitants of the settlements downstream of the Vychegda. Experts state that the discharge of harmful substances occurred in the sanitary protection zone of the surface source of drinking water supply in the settlement of Zheshart with a population of more than 7,000. The time for the river water to reach from the discharge point to Zheshart is about 2.5 days.

The Vychegda Protection Committee believes that Mondi together with independent experts should carry out comprehensive monitoring of Vychegda, including analysis of surface waters, bottom sediments, river biota, aquatic and coastal flora; assess the damage caused to the coastal zone; establish the level of possible negative impact on the health of residents of settlements downstream of the discharge site.

Be that as it may, the point in this case has not yet been put, but, most likely, given the importance of the enterprise for the region, it will get off with a fine that is quite feasible for itself.

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