ST. PETERSBURG – Environmental activists call it the “chemical Chernobyl,” a vast toxic waste dump outside St. Petersburg that they say is a dangerous threat to the environment of Russia’s second-largest city.
“The situation has been dire for many years, and nothing has changed,” warned Viktoria Markova, a local environmental activist. She recently staged a 29-day hunger strike to draw attention to the Krasny Bor (Red Forest) chemical dump, whose contamination she believes could leach into the city’s drinking water.
“We don’t want the site to be kept in this state,” said Markova, a 50-year-old mother.
Krasny Bor, which sprawls over 73 hectares (180 acres), is the largest dumping ground for dangerous industrial waste in northwestern Russia, containing almost 2 million tons of toxic waste in open-air pools.
“With the start of the thaw, the level of the pools has risen a lot. They have even overflowed in some places,” Markova warned.
If such contaminated water reached a nearby stream, the Bolshaya Izhorka, “it will mix with rainwater and then reach the Neva River and the taps of St. Petersburg residents,” Markova said, referring to the river flowing through the city center.
This scenario does not appear totally far-fetched, following statements by Russian authorities. In mid-February, the country’s natural resources monitor Rosprirodnadzor said the concentration of dangerous substances in a man-made canal circling Krasny Bor exceeded permitted levels.
Local prosecutors announced that month that they had given the operator of the chemical site, Polygon Krasny Bor, six months to repair a number of its dams as well as a waste-storage container.
Opened in 1970, this storage site treats toxic waste from the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.
Krasny Bor is just 2 kilometers away from the village of the same name and lies some 30 kilometers from the historic center of St. Petersburg.
Other storage sites of this type have usually closed after 20 years, but Krasny Bor has been open for 45. It stopped taking fresh waste in 2014, but the activists said it continued to receive waste illegally.
Three years ago, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev vowed to close down Krasny Bor.
Experts estimate that preliminary work to close the facility would cost 60 billion rubles ($860 million).