Norilsk, Russia

Norilsk, Russia

Potentially Affected People: Type of Pollutant: Source of Pollution:
134,000 Air pollution – particulates, sulfur dioxide, heavy metals (nickel, copper, cobalt, lead, selenium), phenols, hydrogen sulfide. Major nickel and related metals mining and processing

The Problem:


An industrial city founded in 1935 as a slave labor camp, the Siberian city of Norilsk, Russia is the northernmost major city of Russia and the second largest city (after Murmansk) above the Arctic Circle. Mining and smelting operations began in the 1930s and this city now contains the world’s largest heavy metals smelting complex, where over 4 million tons annually of cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, arsenic, selenium and zinc are released into the air. The city has been accused of being one of the most polluted places in Russia, where the snow is black, the air tastes of sulfur and the life expectancy for factory workers is 10 years below the Russian average. A 1999 study found elevated copper and nickel concentrations in soils in as much as a 60 km radius of the city.


Norilsk Nickel, a recently privatized firm, is one of Russia’s leading producers of non-ferrous and platinum-group metals. It controls one-third of the world’s nickel deposits and accounts for a substantial portion of the country’s total production of nickel, cobalt, platinum, and palladium. It is also a major polluter, ranking first among Russian industrial enterprises in terms of air pollution.


Health Impacts:


The local population is severely affected by the air quality where air samples exceed the maximum allowable concentrations for both copper and nickel. Children suffer from numerous respiratory diseases. Investigations evaluating the presence of ear, nose and throat diseases among schoolchildren revealed that children living near the copper plant were twice as likely to become ill than those living in further districts. Similarly, children living near the nickel plant were shown to become ill at a rate 1.5 times higher than children from further districts. Mortality from respiratory diseases is considerably higher than the average in Russia, accounting for 15.8% of all deaths among children. Premature births and late-term pregnancy complications are also frequent.


Since November 2001, Norilsk has been shut to foreigners, one of 90 "closed towns" in Russia where Soviet-levels of secrecy persist.


Status of Clean-Up Activity:


Many groups, some supported by international donors, have been making efforts to address the city’s pollution problems. Emissions reductions efforts, including the construction of dust and gas removal facilities, have been ongoing since the 1980s but the effectiveness of these efforts is questionable.


Norilsk Nickel has been investing in pollution control measures over recent years and has reported significant reductions in particulate emissions and a plan to upgrade sulphur control facilities in the next few years. Recent site visits have confirmed that progress is being made but it will take more time and broader efforts by all the parties in Norilsk to achieve visible pollution reduction and demonstrated health improvements.


According to company reports, Norilsk Nickel has worked consistently to reduce emissions of major air pollutants. In 2006, sulphur dioxide emissions were reduced from 2005 levels by 0.84%, nickel oxide emissions were reduced by 18.6%, emissions of solids dropped 12.9%, and copper oxide emissions dropped 21.1%. In 2006 the company reported investment of more than US $5m to maintain and overhaul its dust and gas recovery and removal systems. It has also committed nearly US $1.4m for its air pollution prevention plan.




Apco International/Norilsk Nickel. Company Report on Air Pollution Reduction Measures in 2006 and Plans for 2007.


S. M. Allen-Gil, J. Ford, B. K. Lasorsa, M. Monetti, et al. “Heavy metal contamination in the Taimyr Peninsula, Siberian Arctic”. The Science of the Total Environment 301 (2003) 119-138.


J. M. Blais, K. E. Duff, T.E. Laing, J.P. Smol. “Regional contamination in lakes from the Noril’sk region in Siberia, Russia”. Water Air Soil Pollut. (1999) 110 (3-4) 389-404.


O.N. Zubareva, L. N. Skripal’shchikova, N. V. Greshilova, and V. I. Kharuk. “Zoning of landscapes exposed to technogenic emissions from the Norilsk Mining and Smeltering works”. Russian Journal of Ecology (2003) 34 (6) 375-380.


B. A. Revich. “Public health and ambient air pollution in Arctic and Subarctic cities of Russia”. The Science of the Total Environment. (1995). 160/161 585-592.


Mines And Communities Website. “Hell on Earth.” April 18, 2003.

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