Russian River Turned Bright Red – Factory Waste Leak or Natural Ore?

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Who's to blame for the recent color transformation of the Siberian Daldykan River? Mining and smelting company Norilsk Nickel or Russia's natural iron ore?

The+stunning+red+river+surrounded+by+a+waste+land+of+dead+trees+and+mud.
The stunning red river surrounded by a waste land of dead trees and mud.

The stunning red river surrounded by a waste land of dead trees and mud.

The stunning red river surrounded by a waste land of dead trees and mud.

Although scientists have yet to generate an official report, two theories have emerged to explain the recent reddening of Russia’s Daldykan River.

One of these theories is based on the assumption that one of mining and smelting company Norilsk Nickel’s facilities has a waste disposal malfunction and is leaking harmful pollutants into the nearby waterway. The factory is running extensive environmental checks on its facility to ensure that this environmental phenomenon was not caused by waste leaks, but many doubt their credibility.

The drastic color transformation occurred over a period of just a few days in early September, and Norilsk Nickel has continued to deny the possibility that their facilities are to blame for the incident, saying in a statement to National Geographic magazine that they “cannot confirm that the situation was caused by a leak,” but are monitoring both the river and their corporate production sites just in case. Yet despite these many assurances, citizens are skeptical. In numerous social media posts, they suggest that the company is hiding something big.

The locals have good reason to attribute this incident to the factory, as Norilsk Nickel’s plant is one of the world’s most polluting enterprises. It produces more sulfur dioxide than all of France, and is therefore surrounded by a dead zone of tree trunks and mud that covers an area twice the size of Rhode Island. So it is reasonable to see the river’s transformation as just another example of the facility’s incredibly lax environmental standards.
According to ABC News, locals were not surprised when the river began its color transformation. One individual on social media claimed that local factory employees refer to one of the Daldykan River’s reservoirs as “the Red Sea” because it frequently reddens from factory ore runoff and natural iron buildup. This argument is the second most popular explanation for the reddening – that the issue is of a natural rather than industrial nature. Many support the notion that its unusual hue is caused by a buildup of iron that occurs naturally in the region.

Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment favors the first explanation, but did not mention what chemical may be causing the red color. However, the Russian government released an official report which suggested that Norilsk Nickel’s pipeline could be leaking copper-nickel concentrate.

No matter what the cause is, the reddening will have deleterious effects on the environment and wildlife. It is not too hard to see why factory chemicals or runoff is detrimental to the freshwater climate, but high concentrations of iron oxide (or rust) can be harmful as well. Although it doesn’t affect humans, it could be fatal to the fish that live in the Daldykan, according to Greenpeace researcher Vladimir Chuprov. And if the “slurry” of factory run off materials contains not only iron but also traces of heavy metals created by Norilsk smelters, it could greatly damage the fragile Arctic environment.

It was through social media that Russia’s environmental ministry was alerted to and became involved in the Daldykan river issue, and the citizens of Siberian industrial city Norilsk eagerly wait for the official decision concerning this so-called “blood river”.

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