Murmansk prosecutors: Kola Mining violates environmental law, after all

Publish date: July 24, 2013

A document obtained by Bellona and authored by Murmansk Regional Prosecutor’s Office reveals prosecutors actually made a finding of environmental violations after an inspection of Kola Mining and Metallurgical Company’s plants in Nikel and Zapolyarny – an unexpected reversal after earlier statements made both to Murmansk authorities and the media that said the company’s operations and environmental impact remained within the limits of established regulations.

The document – a response to an inquiry received from Moscow – also said fines were levied against the company and orders were issued to remedy the violations.

 Last month, an inspection by Murmansk prosecutors and the local Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor, in its Russian acronym) concluded that Kola Mining and Metallurgical Company (KMMC) – a daughter company of the Russian metals mining and smelting giant Norilsk Nickel – did not release emissions of sulfur dioxide in excess of established norms, despite meteorological and other scientific data proving the contrary.

 The inspection had been initiated by Oleg Mitvol, former Rosprirodnadzor deputy director and now Council leader of Green Alliance – People’s Party, who had filed an official request last March.

 After the inspection, which took place on June 10 to 13, Ruslan Tishchenko, head of Rosprirodnadzor in Murmansk Region, told Bellona that an independent laboratory carried out measurements on the edge of the buffer protection zone of the industrial complex in Nikel – the location of Kola MMC’s smelting operations – and that tests showed emissions were not above the allowable pollution limits. An almost identical message came from representatives of the Regional Prosecutor’s Office as well.

 Kola MMC runs operations in three towns on the Kola Peninsula: Zapolyarny, where nickel ore is mined, Nikel, where the metal is smelted, and Monchegorsk, where it is refined. As a combined entity they have been a heated flashpoint of dispute over cross-border pollution from Russia to Norway for the last 30 years.

Rosprirodnadzor and the prosecutors’ statements on Kola Mining’s compliance with environmental law were extensively quoted in all the regional media.

Maria Krayevskaya from the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office also told Bellona in early July that on June 25, prosecutors working in conjunction with the Center of Laboratory Studies and Technical Measurements for Murmansk Region collected air samples at the industrial complexes of Nikel and Zapolyarny – and that at the moment of collection, the samples did not exhibit pollution above established norms.

 Krayevskaya also said “no prosecutorial action” was initiated for lack of grounds. 

 However, the statement obtained by Bellona runs completely counter to the prosecutors’ earlier statements.

 The document, dated June 27, is an official response (in Russian) from the Murmansk Environmental Prosecutors’ office to Mitvol, who earlier heavily criticized the findings released last June and said he did not believe Rosprirodnadzor’s data.

 “[…] Rosprirodnadzor gets its figures by taking dictation from the KMMC. This is on the border of corruption; they work together hand in hand […],” Mitvol said in a telephone interview with Bellona at the time.

 The letter to Mitvol says that the inspection carried out by the environmental prosecutors, Rosprirodnadzor officials and Center for Laboratory Studies has “shown that the industrial operations of […] Kola MMC are being conducted with violations of the obligatory requirements of the legislation on atmospheric air protection.”

 “[…] administrative action in the form of a fine was taken against the responsible official on June 24, 2013, additionally, improvement notices have been issued to […] Kola MMC on remedying the detected violations of the legislation on atmospheric air protection, with compliance with said notices being under the supervision of the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office,” the letter concludes.

 The letter does not specify which official was fined for the violations or what these detected violations in fact were.

The findings presented by Rosprirodnadzor and Murmansk prosecutors following the inspection of June 10 to 13 are not just at odds with this response to Mitvol, but also contradicted data published for these dates on the website of the Murmansk branch of the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Rosgidromet). Rosgidromet’s data indicated average hourly concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the air in Nikel on these days were on levels of between 0.9 and 3.8 the maximum allowable values.

Notably, Rosgidromet’s equipment is installed in Nikel at a much larger distance from Kola MMC’s industrial sites and is beyond the boundary of the buffer protection zone.

 Rosgidromet’s measurements sounded more credible both to Mitvol and Tore Berglen, a scientist with the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), with whom Bellona spoke in early July.

 “Of course pollution measurements are exceeding Russian values – I don’t know how [Rosprirodnadzor] makes these claims that they are not,” Berglen said then, adding he trusted Rosgidromet’s results and their science.

 Norilsk Nickel’s environmental impact has long been a cause of concern both for Norway and the Kola Peninsula’s local population.

 “[…] The fact that this problem exists is well known even to the KMMC […],”Andrei Zolotkov, head of Bellona’s Murmansk office, said in early July, adding, “I am not at all surprised by this situation, when all government agencies concerned with the environment say in chorus ‘there are no violations, everything is within allowable limits, we went and checked and discovered nothing wrong.’”

 But if the prosecutors’ response to Mitvol was a departure from this practice, the short letter was still limited in detail.

 “Unfortunately, there is no information in the prosecutors’ answer on what kind of violations have been found, which environmental requirements were violated, who is the official that has been held accountable, or what was the amount of the fine,” Zolotkov told Bellona.

 “It would also be interesting to know what kind of orders were issued to eliminate the detected violations of the law on atmospheric air protection,” Zolotkov said.

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