|1||Lupanovo, Moscow Oblast|
|3||Achinsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai|
|4||Kansk, Krasnoyarsk Krai|
|6||Solnechnyy, Krasnoyarsk Krai|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
|5||Norilsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai|
|6||Krasnoyarsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai|
|8||Saint Petersburg, St.-Petersburg|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
The Russian Federation is the full, official name for Russia. It is atranscontinental country stretching from the Pacific Ocean in the east to theBaltic Sea in the west. The total land area covered by Russia is a whopping 17,125,200 square kilometres. It stretchesacross 11 time zones and borders 16 other countries. In December 2020, thepopulation was estimated to be approximately 150 million people.
Russia is currently experiencing “Good” air quality with a US AQI figure of 41according to recommended levels by the World Health Organisation (WHO).However, in the 2019 world ranking, Russia was placed at 81 out of a total of 98 dirtiest countries.
In 2019, Russia’s capital city of Moscow attained the target set by the WHO forclean air. For a total of 7 months of the year, a figure of 10 µg/m³ wasrecorded. The months of January and May returned “Good” readings of between 10and 12 µg/m³. For the remaining three months, the figure was “Moderate” withtotals between 12.1 and 35.4 µg/m³. Looking at the historic figures, 2017 sawan annual average of 8.4 µg/m³ and 2018 returned a figure of 10.1 µg/m³.
Air quality is a big issue here, says an environmental expert from Krasnoyarsk,Siberia’s third-largest city. What the locals know as “black sky mode” is oftenexperienced when industrial plants are recommended to reduce their emissions’levels because of bad weather conditions. Every public discussion of ourgeneral environmental situation includes the problem of atmospheric pollution.
The Russian public is mostly unaware of the perturbing statistics collected by bothscientific experts and government bodies. As few as one-fifth of regions inRussia have their own pollution monitoring systems, and even then, half oftheir checks on air quality are not carried out to a high enough standard. Thismeans it is virtually impossible to obtain statistically sound data from them.
There is an environmental “Watchdog” (Roshydromet) which controls 600 observationposts in 225 towns and cities but this service is not free which means around80 per cent of the regions would have to pay to use it. Needless to say, mostdo not! This ultimately means that the general public has no idea as to thequality of the air they are breathing on a daily basis. In the regions wheredata is released to the general public, it is far from accurate because anaverage for a given area over a given period of time, with no account taken of individual locations and times, is used.
Local authorities are very often criticised for placing the monitors in relatively“clean” areas such as in parks or near the riverbanks or on the edge of townwhere the data collected is not a true representation of actuality.
More than 80 per cent of Russia’s air pollution comes from vehicle emissions,especially in European Russia such as Moscow and St. Petersburg. But thesecities are not the most polluted in Russia. That accolade goes to those citieswhich are found in Siberia and the Urals. In these areas, the main source ofpollution is from, industry. This is where the country’s mining, chemical and heavy industries are concentrated.
According to a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Environmental Research Council,about 14 per cent of the Russian landmass is classified as being ofenvironmental concern, with 67 million people living close to the limit ofpermissible levels of atmospheric pollution; 27 million are at five times thelimit and 12 million are at 10 times the limit. In Moscow alone air pollutionaccounts for 5,000 extra deaths a year, which equates to twice as many as the number of road deaths.
Some attempts are being made to improve not only the gathering of the data but alsoindustrial practices. The city of Dzershinsk which is 250 miles east of Moscow,has been a major centre of the chemical industry since the Soviet era and oftenfeatured in the list of dirtiest cities in the world. But in 2014 it eventually dropped out of theEnvironmental Ministry’s ‘Thirty Most Polluted Cities’ chart due to changes within their working practices.
In Moscow, air pollution accounts for approximately 5,000 deaths a year. The localauthority believes the improved figures are due to a combination of increasedattention to environmental safety in industrial plants and improvedenvironmental monitoring while excluding the existing increasing environmental damage from the data.
Residents in the city of Vladikavkaz have to pay an outside organisation to monitor theirair quality as there are no other measurements available. Various otherdistricts in the city are incompletely monitored. This means that averageannual indicators show acceptable emission levels, although some measurementsindicate higher than permitted levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2),nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO). One of the more perturbingobservations is that experts accuse Elektrozink of releasing toxic substancesinto the atmosphere during the night. Residents voice their concern that thefigures held by the company are not made available for general knowledge. Thereis no monitoring conducted overnight and there is no system for warningresidents about possible hazardous discharges, so all they have to go on are their own observations.
Residents are often very reluctant to protest against the region’s main employer whoseactivities are crucial to the local economy, even though they are aware of therisks to their health. These large companies are becoming almost omnipotent.
In Moscow, vehicles that do not meet the Euro-3 emissions standard have been bannedfrom the city centre for several years. In order to encourage the use ofelectric vehicles, the city has installed almost 80 electric vehicle chargingstations, with a similar number planned for installation in the coming years.This is the way forward for non-polluting personal modes of transport.
St. Petersburg is investing in an electrified public transportation system whichwill include trams and buses. They will also cap the number of heavy-dutyfreight trucks allowed in the city. A cycle hire scheme has been successfullyintroduced and almost 40km of cycle paths in the city have been designated with plans to increase this in the near future.
The US-based NGO Pure Earth and the International Green Cross list the Siberiancity of Norilsk in their top ten table of the worst polluted areas in theworld. They also classify it as being the most polluted place in Russia. Themain source of pollution is Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest nickel andpalladium mining and smelting company. The company has modernised itsfacilities over the past decade (it announced the closure of its oldest nickelprocessing plant in 2014), but the level of atmospheric pollution is still tentimes higher than the Russian average and 25 times higher than in Moscow. Thisis a prime example of residents being unwilling to criticise the company wheremost of them work. Over the years that Norilsk Nickel has been there, the cityand its inhabitants have been absorbed into the company, so it’s difficult to talk about serious protests.
Because of this, most comments are anonymously published online. Everybody knows thatthe plant is slowly poisoning Norilsk. The gas has killed off all the localforest, and the plants which were growing on the tundra around the industrialzone have all died off. People don’t even want to think about their health;they just ignore the toxic cloud hanging over the city. They almost have cometo accept the fact and think it’s a nuisance but it’s not fatal.
It is reported that if you step outside on any day, there is a 40 per cent chancethat you will taste sulphur dioxide or other noxious gases. One resident wenton to say that even when doors and windows are opened at home, the smells drift inside.
Over the last decade, the local authorities have been looking at Russia’senvironmental protection legislation, amending old laws and passing new ones.Among them is a law passed in 2014 which was designed to stimulate the adoptionof the best available technologies (BAT), including those relating to clean air.
By 2017, the Ministry planned to have monitoring devices installed at all largeindustrial installations, with the data collected made available not only togovernment bodies but to the public as well. This monitoring should in theoryput an end to unlawful emissions such as overnight discharges, whose sources canbe difficult to establish. This is a regular occurrence even in Moscow.
Most environmental specialists are fairly positive about the reforms on air quality;their main requirements are about their putting into practice across theregions. In cities where several large companies play an important role in thelocal economy or have close links with the local authorities, the regulatory bodiesmight ignore obvious breaches, or the company might simply bribe or choose topay the relatively insignificant fines. Another important factor is the need totake air quality into account during planning discussions which is something few cities do now.
Whilst traffic in cities has been a controversial issue in the West for several years,it is seen as a new and growing health problem in Russia. The concentration ofsmall airborne particles from petrol and diesel engines cause around 40,000premature deaths in Russia every year and are a particular risk to people living near major roads.
Novosibirsk is a city where there is a direct correlation between air quality and deathrates. ‘The more polluted the air, the higher the rate. Research shows that onaverage, 300 additional cars give one extra death every three months. At thesame time, Russian cities still lack a majority of citizens whose strong‘green’ views could stand up against the well-organised motorists’organisations, which is usually the victor when it comes to planning argumentson things such as parking facilities and the pedestrianisation of city centres.
When it comes to car ownership, Russia thinks differently to that of the Europeanmindset. For many Russians, car ownership is a status symbol and the market isstill far from saturation point. Another unusual factor to be taken intoconsideration is that a lot of Muscovites live in cramped rented flats on theoutskirts of the city and work eight to ten hour days in their offices in thecity centre. They choose to “escape” reality for two to four hours daily. Theychoose to stay in their cars and cruise around the city suburbs where it’scomfy and they listen to their favourite music and enjoy their own space. Thisis a luxury that they don’t get anywhere else.
Planning specialists believe that the only way to change these habits is to developcomfortable, fast and convenient public transport. The famous Moscow Metro isalready overstretched and overcrowded and is therefore not the first choice asa mode of daily transportation. In contrast to the city authorities, who stilltend to think that the solution is to build more roads, it is argued that thegradual introduction of disincentives on urban traffic, such as paid parking,which Moscow has already begun to implement and St Petersburg is about to, willdiscourage personal use of vehicles within the city centres. Many planningspecialists support the restrictions on cars in cities whilst environmentalistsare petitioning for more pedestrian areas and cycle routes. Indeed, they havealready been successful in some cities. Most experts still think that it willtake a long time to change the “mindset” of people who enjoy using their personal mode of transport.
As older diesel-fuelled buses become old and obsolete they are being replaced by electric eco-friendly vehicles.
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