Atmospheric air monitoring data for 2021 was presented by Roshydromet. Noteworthy is the regression in five of the 12 most polluted cities in the country. By presidential decree, these settlements are instructed to reduce emissions into the atmosphere by 20% by 2024. To this end, comprehensive emission reduction plans have been developed in each city. First of all, they include work on the modernization and re-equipment of large industrial enterprises with treatment facilities. Until 2020, most cities (see table) showed a positive trend in air quality. But last year, some turned back.
“Compared to 2020, in 2021 the level of atmospheric air pollution has changed in four cities: in Bratsk (Irkutsk region) - from “high” to “very high” pollution levels due to an increase in the content of benzapyrene in the air, especially in the Central District cities, in the zone of influence of the main sources of emissions, as well as aerosol pollutants in the warm period with a maximum in August due to the transfer of combustion products with smoke from the forest fires that engulfed Yakutia, ”the Roshydromet report says.
In Krasnoyarsk, pollution levels rose from "high" to "very high" due to increased concentrations of benzapyrene, formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide and hydrogen chloride due to hot and dry summer weather.
In Novokuznetsk (Kemerovo region), the level rose from "high" to "very high" due to the increase in the concentrations of benzapyrene and suspended solids. In total, an increase in the concentrations of seven pollutants was recorded.
In Chelyabinsk, air pollution has changed from "elevated" to "high". This was influenced by increased concentrations of nitrogen oxides and ethylbenzene and, as a consequence, the concentration of formaldehyde. Roshydromet experts also note an abnormally hot summer and low rainfall. In addition, there is an increase in the concentration of benzapyrene due to summer forest fires in the region.
Nizhny Tagil (Sverdlovsk region) also fell into this group of lagging behind, which rolled back in 2020, in 2021 the air in Tagil was spoiled by flattering fires.
According to the interlocutor of Novye Izvestia, who is familiar with the progress of the program, two cities got out of the general trend: Chelyabinsk and Nizhny Tagil, from which they expected more.
“According to the program plan, in 2021 Russia should have had 5 cities with high and very high air pollution, but now there are actually seven of them,” the source says, “if not for the rollback of Chelyabinsk and Nizhny Tagil, everything would be within the plan” .
An interlocutor familiar with the situation notes that the drawdown in air quality occurred immediately after the reform of Rosprirodnadzor. It is this department that controls large enterprises, which in most cases make the main contribution to air pollution. The same Rosprirodnadzor was formally responsible for the Clean Air program until the end of 2021, when the responsibility for the project was transferred to the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation.
“The Hydromet report contains data calculated according to the old standards, now they are even more stringent and the cities that showed negative dynamics are even further from the norm than it seems,” the source says, “the current result is a consequence of hypertrophied centralization in Rosprirodnadzor. Visits to enterprises must be coordinated with Moscow, and the air requires an instant reaction in order to catch a violation and make claims to the enterprise, there is a clock. And approvals can take days. In addition, for a long time there was a departmental dispute between Rosprirodnadzor and the prosecutor's office, whether it was necessary to send a mobile laboratory to the prosecutor's office and who should pay for this work.
According to the source, Chelyabinsk has become an exemplary city in this regard. In 2016, social dissatisfaction with the environmental situation has already begun to influence politics. The authorities decided that something had to be done. Then, albeit in constant disputes among themselves, all the responsible departments became more active. The enterprises were subjected to checks with the OMON, permits for emissions were revoked from the factories, and a criminal case was initiated on air pollution. But, most importantly, a methodology was developed by which violations that could be presented to pollutants were quickly recorded.
“It sounds trite, but simple control by the authorities already leads to the fact that enterprises reduce emissions, desynchronize their divisions so that they do not throw out in one gulp, but stretch over time, allow emissions to dissipate,” the source says, “unfavorable weather conditions are announced, immediately a laboratory appears near the enterprise. This fact already disciplines, forces to switch to other technological schemes that give less emissions, do not turn off the treatment equipment. Strengthening control can reduce emissions by up to 20%. Therefore, it is necessary not only to modernize plants, what is being done, but also to control how new equipment works, how the units are configured”.
Then all this led to the fact that the air in the city began to improve. Pollution levels dropped from high to elevated. But now this practice is a thing of the past, and smog has returned to the city, which residents regularly write about on social networks, posting photos with a gray haze over the city. Now this picture has been officially confirmed by Roshydromet. Played a cruel joke with Chelyabinsk and the closure of the city dump. The object was recultivated and covered with an earthen dome. She stopped emitting combustion products into the atmosphere. It turned out that its contribution to pollution was about 20% and many relaxed, as this is the formal goal of the Clean Air program. But in the end, despite the landfill and the modernization of production, air quality is deteriorating.
“At the same time, there is a positive example in the Chelyabinsk region - Magnitogorsk, where the air quality, on the contrary, is improving and now it is formally cleaner than in Chelyabinsk,” the source says, “why did this happen? There was a political will of the owner of the enterprise. Almost all polluting enterprises belong to MMK. At some point, they accepted all the wishes and recommendations of government agencies on how to organize modernization and control. They built an automatic emission monitoring network, both at the sources themselves and in the residential area. And they can quickly manage production, in case of unfavorable conditions, reconfigure the units. In fact, they completed the task of the national project ahead of schedule, and by 2025 they want to bring the level of pollution to a low level”.
As a result of the reform of Rosprirdnadzor in the Chelyabinsk region, its own department was liquidated. Now the region is united with the Sverdlovsk region, where there is also a city that is included in the program and requires special attention. At the same time, during the merger of the two departments, many employees left the department, some of them ended up in industrial enterprises, which until recently were caught by the hand.
In the summer of 2022, the Ural Department of Rosprirodnadzor was checked by the prosecutor's office, which found a number of violations.
“The powers to control the implementation of the law on environmental protection are not fully implemented,” the materials of the prosecutor’s audit say, “in 2021, during the period of adverse meteorological conditions (NMU), 40 on-site inspections of the territory were carried out in order to check atmospheric air pollution with the involvement of the center laboratory analysis. In 2022, there were 11 such inspections. Despite the fact that in 2021 NMU was observed for 158 days, and for the six months of 2022 - 72 days,”
The prosecutor's office notes that the department has generally stopped visiting the laboratory from March 18, 2022. In addition, in May, the accreditation of the branch of the laboratory analysis center in the Chelyabinsk region was suspended. The inspectors were essentially left without eyes.
“An analysis of the consideration of citizens' appeals showed that officials of the department infringe on the rights of citizens to consider appeals in a timely manner,” the prosecutor's office concluded, “to numerous appeals about air pollution in Chelyabinsk, general answers were given without carrying out verification activities and taking measures on each fact”.
Roshydromet only stated the situation with the Clean Air program, the department did not give a deep analysis of why it happened and what to do about it. But the debriefing has already begun. According to Novye Izvestia's source in the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources, consultations have already begun on this rollback.
The State Duma also wants answers, Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Ecology Vladimir Burmatov (represents the Chelyabinsk region) initiated parliamentary hearings on water “the failure of the implementation of the Clean Air project”. Hearings may take place in November-December.
“The situation in Chelyabinsk and other regions, where there was a rollback in terms of indicators, will be analyzed specifically,” Burmatov said, “we see that they cannot or do not want to solve the problem in the region. For example, Chelyabinsk was in an advantageous position, the landfill was restored, federal money came - 4 billion rubles. Other regions did not receive such attention. In addition, there was a coronavirus pandemic, a decline in industrial production. But at the same time, there is a negative trend. In terms of the number of requests from citizens over the past six months, this issue has again become No. 1. There has not been such a sharpness for years 5. Authorized departments defend not the interests of non-citizens, but the interests of enterprises. Such hearings are an unprecedented story. There has never been a hearing on this topic before. This applies to the 12 largest cities in the country, in which lives under 10 million people. This is a violation of the execution of the decree. This is not an ordinary law, there is a clause there that the head of the region is responsible for the disruption of the program. With other programs, there is no such item anywhere else.
Novye Izvestia sent inquiries to the regions where there was a rollback in terms of Clean Air. The government of the Irkutsk region said that this is the effect of forest fires that were observed in the region in 2021.
The press service of the Ministry of Ecology of the Chelyabinsk region replied that "it could have been worse."
“The volume of pollutant emissions from stationary sources in Chelyabinsk in 2021 decreased by 8.56 thousand tons compared to 2020,” the ministry said, “in addition, in 2021, according to the Chelyabinsk Central State Medical Service, the effectiveness of measures taken by enterprises and organizations to reduce the negative impact with NMU at high background values increased from 78 to 93 percent in 2021, which made it possible to avoid a more significant increase in the value of the indices. At present, the comprehensive plans for Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk have been adjusted, taking into account the activities of enterprises to achieve emission quotas as part of the quota experiment, and sent for approval to the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources.”
Other regions have not yet responded to inquiries. It should be noted that the heads of the regions are really responsible for the implementation of the program indicators. But they have no real authority to influence large enterprises, giant plants are controlled by Rosprirodnadzor.
Vadim Petrov, State Secretary of the Environmental Chamber of Russia, Chairman of the Public Council under the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet), noted that the tightened sanitary standards included dozens of new cities in the ecological orbit, which had not previously been heard in the context of air pollution.
“For more than half of the substances, the standards were adjusted in the direction of tightening, so the number of cities where the maximum allowable concentration (MAC) was exceeded for any of the pollutants was increased to 211, previously with the old standards of such cities there were 77,” the expert said. - It turns out that in 80% of the cities where observations are carried out, at least once a year, an excess of the MPC for any substance is recorded. More than 70 million people live in these cities. And this is a serious challenge. In addition, the list of cities with the highest pollution has been increased from 12 to 42. The biggest pollution is noted by benzapyrene and maximum efforts should be made to solve this problem under the sanctions. The sanctions have indeed undermined the pace of modernization and transition to the best available technologies. This is a task for the import substitution program, but most of the technologies will not be replaced in the next 5 years. This is a challenge, we need to think about what to do next”.
At the same time, according to Novye Izvestiya, the Ministry of Natural Resources is preparing another change in the methodology for evaluating the effectiveness of the program, and they plan to put at the forefront not the real air quality, but the formal achievement of a 20% reduction in emissions.
“So far, this is a project, and the new methodology has not been officially adopted, but there are risks,” says a source in the Ministry of Natural Resources, “the most dangerous substance is benzapyrene, measured in kilograms, and it is enough to reduce its emissions by a few percent to make the air much cleaner. But this does not affect the total emissions much. At the same time, it is possible to reduce the volume of dust emissions, or how to close a landfill in Chelyabinsk and throw away all the indicators, but in reality the air will not get better, which was shown by the data of Roshydromet. For example, such cities as Lipetsk, Cherepovets, Omsk had relatively clean air, took measures to reduce it, made it better, but they may not reach 20%, although pollution indicators are low according to hydrometeorological standards”.