Jump to content

Sources of Air Pollution in Murmansk County, Russia

Forurensning over Nikel
Foto: Espen Tangen Aarnes, Bioforsk Jord og Miljø, Svanhovd.

According to recent media reports (example) Norway is a major source of pollution within the Murmansk county in N-W Russia. It is claimed that 45% of the total pollution in the area is originating from abroad, with Norway as an important contributor. NILU – Norwegian Institute for Air Research has worked extensively in this area, and has critical scientific objections to this assertion. NILU’s work shows that it is actually sulfur dioxide (SO2) and heavy metals that are causing pollution in the border area, not nitrogen dioxide (NOX).

NILU’s work in the border area
NILU has been monitoring the air quality in the area around the Norwegian-Russian border since 1974, which has been funded by the Norwegian authorities (Ministry of the Environment and Norwegian Environment Agency). As per today there are Norwegian monitoring stations at Svanvik and in Karpdalen, measuring SO2 and heavy metals as well as meteorological data. NILU has also experienced successful cooperation with HydroMet, a governmental body in Murmansk which is the Russian counterpart to NILU.

NILU’s measurements in the border area show excessive levels of SO2 and heavy metals. Air quality in Karpdalen is exceeding Norwegian threshold values due to pollution from Nikel and Zapoljarnij (Berglen et al, 2012).

In order to assess air quality and sources of air pollution, long time measurements are crucial since it is not possible to draw any conclusions from single measurements carried out within a short period. Systematic and long term monitoring of SO2 and heavy metals carried out by Norwegian and Russian research institutes show that the problem of air pollution in the border area is mainly caused by the production of nickel on the Russian side of the border.

Incorrect statements
TThe assertions that pollution from Norway is causing up to 20-30% of the threshold levels in the Murmansk county surprisingly do not even indicate for what components or specific threshold levels this applies to. Therefore, this can not be interpreted as a correct description of the situation.

Previously scientists from the research institute SRI Atmosfera in St Petersburg have carried out studies demonstrating that the dispersion of air pollution from Russia to Norway is marginal. In this context it should be mentioned that SRI Atmosfera is using a model that is made for calculating long range transport of air pollutants (EMEP-model in 50 km x 50 km resolution). NILU has shown that this model is meanwhile not suited to study emissions and dispersion from point sources such as the Nikel smelter that is situated only 7 km away from the Norwegian border. The model is too coarse and therefore it does not correctly display the actual pollution problem within the border area, which is caused by the emissions of SO2 and heavy metals from smelter activity in Nikel and Zapoljarnij. In order to calculate dispersion from point sources it is required to use a model with a much finer- grid resolution (e.g.1 km x 1 km).

The ongoing transport of air pollutants crossing the border in both directions is well documented. Russian scientists have highlighted earlier that transport of nitrogen oxide (NOx) is larger from Norway to Russia than the other way. However, these trans-boundary nitrogen and nitrogen deposition do not represent an environmental problem in Murmansk area. The deposition of these compounds with Norwegian origin makes only a fraction of the overall deposition, and the deposition of nitrogen is far below the critical load (EMEP-report 1/2013, and NILU OR 41/2012). The argument that NOx is causing a environmental problems in the Murmansk area is based upon a selective use of data, and cannot be substantiated from a scientific point of view.

Claims that 45 % of the overall pollution in the Murmansk region originates from abroad (Poland, Finland, Germany and Norway) are cannot be substantiated, and it is only nitrogen that can even be considered as an imported pollution to the region.

Poor air quality in Murmansk county is primarily caused by local emissions from industry, mining, heating and transport. Plants in Nikel and Zapoljarnij are primarily causing environmental problems due to emissions of SO2 and heavy metals, not nitrogen dioxides. This has been documented by research carried out by NILU and colleagues at HydroMet at Murmansk who have the official responsibility for this specific monitoring in Russia. In addition, HydroMet is cooperating closely with the county administration in Murmansk.

Norwegian and Russian research institutes have been collaborating for many years in order to monitor the environmental status of the border area. Norway and Russia have monitoring programs on both sides of the border that are built upon well validated measurement methods, in which meetings regarding these results are being held on a regular basis. A common report about the status of the environment in the border area is currently under preparation and is expected to be publishable in autumn 2013.

Smelters and Nikel city, 2008. Photo: Christoffer Aalerud, fylkesmannen i Finnmark.