Pollution of Lake Baikal

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Unfortunately, the Baikal did not avoid the influence of the most wide-spread water “plague” of our time, i.e. pollution. At that, the negative effect is extremely dangerous for the waters of the Sacred Sea. It may be considered in two ways of water pollution – by industrial wastes and household waste.

As for industry, the reason of the current critical situation of water pollution in the Baikal region is psychologically associated with at least three stereotypes that have been formed during the long standing process of communication with the water:

a) “wet” technologies of different manufacturing processes are the most available and convenient,
b) water resources are great, renewable, and can be controlled,
c) the water possess the ability to purify itself.

The first stereotype was formed as a result of knowledge people acquired while studying natural processes and using them in technological activity. Thus they got to know that the quality of chemical reactions in various solutions depends upon the unique physical and chemical properties of water.

The second stereotype is the result of great number implementations of small, medium and large-scale projects of water transportation that were held during millennia. This stereotype gained the ground especially in the XXth century when there were a lot of artificial reservoirs throughout the whole world made up; the man changed the course of rivers, drained some water bodies, etc. The quintessence of this transformation human activity has become the project of Siberian rivers water transportation to the arid regions of Central Asia.

The third stereotype is based on the well known ability of water to disperse, degrade, transform and store the substances that got in it, i.e. the ability to purify itself. This ability is primarily the result of natural activity of living organisms inhabiting the water. But the hydrosphere as a whole and its constituents has their self-purification point.

In the 80s of the last century, the Baikal self-purification concept was expanded by the theory of A. F. Grachev and M. Martynov. They relied on the fact that the deeper was the place where samples were taken the less quantity of dissolved minerals the water contained. This result contradicted the physics conventional laws, according to which a more mineralized water is heavier, thus it must inevitably fall on the depth, and purified one must rise up to the water reservoir surface. Then the scientists made a hypothesis that the Baikal gets additional water from the bowels of the Earth, from the upper mantle of the planet. They even believe that this source is hidden at the depth of 70 – 80 km, and that the upper mantle possesses a huge water supply, the remainder of the great ocean that had existed at the dawn of the land creation. This concept is very optimistic as if the mantle water is apparent it will be enough for support the mankind during a millennium. But a hypothesis is a hypothesis; it should not stand for today’s self-excuse of the Baikal water pollution. And this pollution is of considerable scale.

All the substances that can alter the natural composition of water, soil or air, damage the environment, are considered hazardous for ecosystems or their constituent parts. The hazards are determined by many factors and take their effect together. To estimate their harmful effect it is necessary to take into consideration the following factors:

• circulation substance amount,
• application range,
• their transformation in different parts of the biosphere,
• medium tolerance,
• their accumulation capacity, especially in living organisms,
• substance chemical and biological activity (toxicity).

To assess a substance hazards it is necessary to evaluate the entire complex of its properties.

And here is the list of factors that cause fresh water pollution:
• huge amount of industrial wastes enterprises try to get rid of overtly or covertly;
• water poisoning by the substances washed out by rain that eventually flow into reservoirs (substances that are exhausted into the air by different vehicles: automobiles, locomotives, ships, etc.);
• percolating of harmful substances used in agriculture for extermination of plant and soil vermins;
• insufficient development of sewerage network and its depreciation (which is typical of many cities in Siberia);
• groundwater that is polluted by household wastes and garbage thrown away in private sectors, houses, summer cottages or when families go out for holidays.

In ancient times people paid special attention to the problem of water pollution. Plato proposed to punish people for water pollution: “... if someone spoils the other person’s saved water, spring or rain, poisons it, swings it out of the way by digging under it or steals it, the victim can demand justice for astynomoi, having estimated the damage. The one, who will be exposed at spoiling water with some poison, will have to cleanse the water as long as paying the damages”. In medieval London in the time of King Edward III in 1338 the Parliament passed a law prohibiting garbage dumping into the Thames. At the beginning of the XVth century the French king issued the same decree with reference to the Seine. Peter I issued a decree that aimed at punishing those who dump garbage into the Neva River.

Water pollution is a very acute problem in the modern world and this is proved by the research that was reported in the newspaper “Trud” in the article “Deadly Capital” (30.11.2006): “Such a large-scale research of water sources (on nine criteria out of ten) is carried out in the capital for the first time. They were tested on the periodic table elements, and bacteria. And all of them were devided into five groups”.

The first one meets the standards of the Russian Federation and WHO recommendations. In Moscow such kind of water ... was not found!

To be honest I must say that the water of the fifth type (undrinkable all in all) was not found either.

But in general the result is not very comforting. The water from the sources needs boiling in any case.
In the second category (drinkable, but only after boiling) there are two springs, one is situated in the park “Tsaritsino” and the other – in the park “Bittsevsky Forest”. They contain a relatively huge quantity of bacteria that die after boiling. There are four springs the experts do not recommend using very often as they contain too much iron and other non-toxic components.

The majority of springs (8) were characterized as “water of short term usage (with boiling)”, there they found the maximum contamination level of non-toxic metals and bacteria”.

Safe water scarcity constantly gets redoubled. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) data annually 400,000 children die worldwide because of the diseases caused by shortage of clear water. Every fifth inhabitant of the planet does not have an access to clear drinking water. In Russia about 30% of the population lives in the areas where there are no effective treatment facilities. Throughout the country, every fifth sample of water (excluding the chlorinated one) contains undesirable chemical agents, and every tenth one – bacteriological ones (bacteria, viruses, parasites). And for the Russian inhabitants the Baikal water can soon become an essential stocking of water shortage. That is why the quality control of water gets more and more demanded. Today, there are enough organizations that look ahead with confidence and see the prospects of clean waters of Lake Baikal emphasizing that in comparison with many other region waters the water of Lake Baikal is pure. But still natural water pollution in the Baikal region is sometimes assessed with too much optimism. It is not always that the following factors are taken into account:

1) a significant part of household and industrial wastes are dumped into water without any treatment; in developed countries – more than a half, in the rest of the world – more than 2/3; the untreated wastes pollute water in a ratio 1:10 up to 1:100 or even more;
2) enterprises dump wastes in the case of emergency,
3) under tough legislation the water users (primarily the Baikal Pulp and Paper Plant, Selenginsk Paper and Cardboard, other plants) understate the level of pollution, overstate the treatment effectiveness and conceal accident wastes;
4) irrigation system water losses of canals, drainage systems and fields intensive percolation are said to be “irrevocable losses”, although in fact they are hidden drainage;
5) “flushed water” is not taken into account in irrigation systems;
6) wastes of ships, boats, motor boats sailing in Lake Baikal are not taken into account;
7) human activity wastes that are naturally flushed away with water right into rivers and lakes are not taken into account either, i.e., wastes formed in the lower layer of troposphere, land surface and the upper layer of lithosphere, primarily in the soil;
these can be acid rain, flushed waters from agricultural fields (out of 500 million tons of fertilizers and 3 million tons of pesticides produced annually, 1/3 is flushed away with rain water), flushed waters from pavement and urban areas, etc.

There are still wastes dumping into the lake from distant areas through the system of water tributaries of the Sacred Sea. These distant areas include Zabaikalye terriory (Khilok and other rivers) and Mongolia (first of all by the Selenga). For example, the Selenga River Basin in Mongolia is the area important for the economic development of the country. Almost 50% of its population is concentrated in the basin of the river that occupies more than 20% of the whole territory of Mongolia. About 70% of cultivated land is located in this region; and there are also major industrial enterprises there. There the Darkhan Metallurgical Plant works at full capacity and it is likely to be extended in the future; very soon the Khubsugul Phosphate Deposit will be put into exploitation (and out of Lake Khubsugul an influx of the Selenga flows). Soon a power plant on River Egiyngol will be built there.

Water pollution affects primarily the water inhabitants; it leads to accumulation of harmful substances in their organisms. For example, in 2000 in the tissues of two Baikal “best residents”, an omul and a seals, they found dioxin. The poison accumulated in fish organisms, water, aquatic plants, and air soon becomes the “property” of other animals. Recently in the tissues of birds living on Lake Baikal, i.e., a teal, a shrike, a hawk and a duck, scientists found organochloride compounds of high concentration. And with birds and fish these harmful substances get into human organisms; besides people often drink contaminated water.

Of course, the prevalence and the level of risk cannot be overstated, because harmful substances concentration in the Baikal water even in areas under risk is still at a quite acceptable level but still it is necessary to do everything possible to reduce the lake pollution to minimum. In every possible way we must strive to break this psychological stereotype, the essence of which the following lines represent very well:

Maybe people understand

That it’s bad to harm the nature.

Why are there many landfills then?

Here are found more than ten.

By the end of the first decade of this century the Russian Government had considered the program “Clean Water” that offers a number of important measures to improve the situation with water in this country. There is hope that these measures will help to maintain Lake Baikal purity as well. 

See also


  1. A.D. Karnyshev "The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal"© BSU Publishing House, 2011

Выходные данные материала:

Жанр материала: English | Автор(ы): Karnyshev A.D. | Источник(и): The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal. Ulan-Ude. 2012 | Дата публикации оригинала (хрестоматии): 2011 | Дата последней редакции в Иркипедии: 30 марта 2015

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Тематический указатель: Irkipedia English