6 mln tons of toxic wastes on bank of Lake Baikal: closed Baikal pulp and paper mill threatens lake

Автор статьи



Daria Zhelnina


In 2014 Sergei Donskoy, Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology, in his interview to the newspaper “Vostochno-Sibirskayapravda” (“East-Siberian Truth”) claimed that there were 6 million tons of toxic wastes from the closed Baikal pulp and paper mill (BPPM) 350-750 meters away from Baikal which could get into the lake and cause an environmental disaster. The issue of waste disposal and BPPM industrial site remediation remains open up to now.

The area of ​​Baikal is 31 722 km²
Baikal is the deepest lake on the planet.

The Baikal pulp and paper mill was considered the most environmentally hazardous for the lake for many years. Every year, OJSC BPPM dumped about 96% of waste water of total amount of drains located in Baikal Lake basin in Irkutsk region and a basic mass of the contamination materials.

❗️ In 2010, 12 499.79 thousand m3 of insufficiently treated waste water was discharged in Baikal.
In 2011 the figure was 26526.59 thousand m3. Herewith, in 2011 the volume of contaminants dumped into the water body was greater: sulphates – 17.6 times, chloride – 18.6 times, nitrite – 4.9 times, phosphates – 2.4 times.

5 years after the closure continues to pose a threat to Baikal
BPPM (Baikal pulp and paper mill)

The enterprise was closed in 2013, yet even 5 years later it’s still poses a threat to the lake, as toxic industrial wastes still remain on the bank of the water body.

This problem can be solved in two ways. The first way is recycling. But the challenge is that the wastes mostly consist of lignin, whose recycling process is very complex and environmentally dangerous. Decomposing lignin into simple compounds like benzene and phenol is far more expensive than obtaining them from oil and gas. Besides, there’s no complete confidence in the effectiveness of the existing technologies. In most cases they are experimental and ecologically dangerous since their efficiency has not been proved”, says Roman Nezovubatko, member of advisory board of the Ministry of Nature of the Russian Federation, in comments to “Novaya gazeta” (“New Newspaper”).

The second way is burying the wastes. This solution was suggested by the governor of Irkutsk region Sergei Levchenko. The risk of this way is that dried lignins are very combustive and highly toxic. In 2005 in the lignin storage of Ziminskiy hydrolysis plant in the territory of Irkutsk region there was a fire which produced a substance dangerous to people and animals. Besides, the question of a possible location for burying toxic wastes is still pending.

The winner of the plant waste management tender is Rosgeologiya Holding. The holding possesses a 240 ha land plot near Moty village in the Shelekhovskiy district of Irkutsk region. It has been suggested to convert 40 ha of agricultural land into industrial land.  The locals are convinced that the authorities are planning to rebury the wastes there. 

The administration of Shelekhovskiy district reacted negatively to the suggestion on the division of the land plot. Mayor of Shelekhovskiy district Maksim Modin claimed that he didn’t understand how this plot could be used for industrial purposes. All land lots are agricultural lots and they hadn’t been used for their intended purpose for 25 years, which in itself is a reason to use them in a way that is beneficial to the district. The villagers agree with the Mayor’s proposition.

The first public hearing concerning the closed BPPM wastes was held on September 18, 2018. Gleb Pisarev, first deputy of the general director of OOO RG-Ecologiya, acted at the hearing. OOO RG-Ecologiya under the aegis of Rosgeologiya has been working on addressing adverse impacts of BPPM’s wastes.

Wastes cannot not be transferred to Moty village as there is no polygon there.Gleb Pisarev

But even if the waste burial site were not placed near Moty village (which would be good news to the locals), the question of where to export wastes and how to avoid even larger environmental problems still remains open. The risk is that the closed BPPM is located on the territory of high seismic activity which may cause higher mudflow and toxic waste entering the lake as a result of destruction of plots of Solzanskiy and Babkhinskiy polygons by the mud streams. Mudflow hazard of Baikalsk territory is the main factor urging to remove the environmental damage from BPPM as soon as possible.

Depth 6-7 meters, width 100 meters, length 1 km. A total of 14.

“What are the dangers of the current situation? – says Yuriy Faleychik, chairman of the board of the public organizations “Baikal Center of Civilian Expertise” –

The reason is that lignin sludge and all the stuff in the accumulating plots of Solzanskiy and Babkhinskiy polygons are getting mixed in different proportions.
What is a plot where lignin sludge is stored? It is a bath 6-7 m. deep, 100 m. wide and 1 km long. Inside it’s fitted with clay and it doesn’t leak. There are 14 such plots. Lignin sludge itself has a consistence of liquid jelly black in color. During storage, complex processes take place: methan, methylmercaptan (an additive to domestic natural gas used to indicate emergency leakages by smell), and hydrogen sulphide are released. Nothing’s happened with this slush for over 50 years.  And now, imagine a situation: a mountain of mudflow comes off and all the waste gets into Baikal. It would dissolve in Baikal and contaminate a large area.  This is the danger”.

Herewith, dry and solid lignin sludge is not dangerous for the lake. “What is the purpose of lignin sludge recycling? First of all, its jelly-like fraction should be divided into solid and liquid ones. There are special methods – add other substances like flocculant, and all the water dries out. Or pump out water and make it a denser mess, which is further mixed with ashes, spills, chips and turns to form an applicatory firm mass. Then it is filled up with soil and leveled with earth surface. And now, imagine, a mudflow comes off. It comes from above, and the substance is pressed, stiffed – that’s all. Nothing goes into the Baikal.  Lignin sludge in a liquid state is not the same at all as a dry and solid state. 

According to Yuriy Faleychik, there are lots of lignin sludge drying methods. For example, mixing it with ash. This technology has been patented by Linmological Institute of the RAS Siberian Branch. The institute specialists consider it the best as it doesn’t demand transporting large amounts of materials. Using ash for drying is the next applicable method as there is TPP in it. The only requirement is to transport the substance within one kilometer. There is also a thermolysis technology: under high temperature (400-700 degrees) water immediately dissipates and all long-chain molecules break. Another one is a polymerization technology. A jelly-like mass is recycled into a dry material that can be used in paving slab production.

Baikal is in grave danger
Lake Baikal – a unique place on our planet

The concern is that in most cases these technologies are very energy-intensive and quite expensive.

Another issue, according to chairman of the board of the public organizations “Baikal Center of civilian expertise”, is complicated relations between the customer (Government of Irkutsk region) and the contractor (Rosgeologiya).

– For example, it has become necessary to sign an additional agreement to the contract, without which we cannot keep moving on. The text of the contract had been developed and submitted for the signature to the Irkutsk region Governor. The contract signing took 5 months, but it could have been done in one day.

The next concern is the absence of up-to-date treatment facilities.

– If above-sludge waters from lignin sludge plots pour off into the city treatment facilities, the latter will be damaged, – explains Yuriy Faleychik. – So there is a need to upgrade the treatment facilities to meet the new requirements. The treatment facilities belong to municipality, which has no money. Who has to give the money? The government of the region. Who has to order the project? The government of the region. Who has to hire a contractor? The government of the region. All this treatment facilities’ upgrade process will take at least two years, if everything is done fast.  It turns out that before starting to process lignin sludge, treatment facilities should be set up first.  No facilities – no start of work. So, since the upgrade hasn’t been started, Rosgeologiya can’t start working as the Government of region is inactive.

At the same time, there is a way to attract large Russian and international companies to solving this issue, the method has already been applied in 2017 during “World standard for wastewater treatment – Baikal water” contest in the Irkutsk region. The awards were in three nominations:  “The Best Technology for Lake Baikal”, “The Best Equipment for Lake Baikal” and “The Best Scientific Development for Lake Baikal”.  Among the winners was LLC KVI International, the Russian office of the international company KWI International GmbH.

A similar competitive approach could help find optimal technologies of industrial waste disposal ☘️ from the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill, but no related measures have been taken to facilitate it.