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A description of Baikal's water & questions concerning its pollution by S.A.Gurulev

Baikal water  Pollution

The anthropogenic impact on Baikal has significantly risen since the 1950s. Industrial and civil building has grown and spread, the population has grown and new towns and settlements have arisen, new lands have been ploughed up and more chemicals have been used in agriculture. Logging on rivers increased, and the practice of floating timber in large rafts, or "cigars", over Baikal was started. The stream of tourists has increased, and two pulp and paper plants have been built, one right on its banks, the other not far from its shores; along the northern shore the Baikal-Amur Mainline Railway has been laid; more boats plough the lake in summer and more cars drive over it in winter.

Over these years measures have been taken aimed at preventing the threat of pollution. The logging of timber on the rivers has been stopped, and the transportation of timber over Baikal in the form of rafts has been reduced, many industrial enterprises of the Buryat Republic (including the Selenginsk pulp and carton plant) have been converted to closed cycle water systems, and environmental education of the local population has been stepped up. However, these measures are insufficient. There is still the threat of pollution.

Today the greatest threat of pollution to the lake is posed by two sources - the town of Ulan-Ude and the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Plant (BPPP). Account must also be taken of pollution of the lake by the industry of Priangarye (Irkutsk Oblast) via the atmosphere. Here, I will only consider the threat of pollution by the BPPP, as I will be dealing with the pollution entering the lake via the Selenga and the atmosphere in subsequent brochures.

When the paper plants were being built at Baikal there was a dramatic public outcry against their construction, motivated by the inevitable pollution of the uniquely pure waters of the lake, inhabited by an unusual living world in which many endemic species are found. The public protest was, however, to no avail. The plants were built.

The question of whether or not the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Plant pollutes Baikal's waters is still in the public's mind.

There is only one answer to that question - yes, it is polluting the lake. But opinions are divided as to the extent of the pollution. Some say that the pollution is already considerable, that already two-thirds of the lake has been polluted. Other object, saying that the pollution is slight. Let us take a look at the question in more detail.

The waste waters of the Plant go through four stages of treatment: complete biological, chemical, mechanical and additional biological treatment. Nevertheless, they are not entirely freed of harmful substances. After being diluted twenty times they are discharged through a deep dispersing outlet 150 metres from the shore at a depth of about 40 metres. What is the level of mineralization of the discharged waters? High. Even the permissible standard for the total mineralization of the waste waters of the plant exceeds the mineralization of Baikal's waters more than six times, the permissible level for sulphates exceeds their content in Baikal's water more than sixty times, and almost two hundred times for that of chlorides. In such conditions it is senseless to deny or underestimate the pollution, and all the more since periodically the permissible limits are exceeded for technological reasons. Because of this variability of the composition of these waste waters different estimates of their mineralization are found in literature. E.N.Tarasova and A.I.Mesheryakova estimate the total mineralization of the waste waters at 460 mg/1, including 300 mg/l of sulphates, 73.9 mg/l of chlorides, and 45 mg/l organic substances, while V.A.Grinenko, G.R.Krouse, Y.A.Fedorov estimate the total at 679 mg/l, with sulphates making up 324 mg/l.

Despite such contrasting differences in the mineralization of the waste waters and Baikal's water itself, even at the point of discharge of the waste waters it is very difficult to establish higher concentrations of harmful substances. Baikal's waters disperse these substances, levelling out their concentrations. Nevertheless, pollution in the waste water discharge area has been established.

In 1993, A.D.Esikov, V.A.Bobrov and others (Russia) published the results of monitoring of Baikal's water mass over the last ten years in the journal "Vodniye resursy" (Russia). Water samples were taken along line sections 20 km apart. On each section they were taken at depths of 0, 5, 25, 50, 100, 200, 500, 800, 1000, 1200, 1300 and 1400 metres. The samples were analysed for light (C12) and heavy (C 13) isotopes of carbon. The lowest level of C 13 was found to be typical of Central Baikal, and higher levels typical of the waters of North and South Baikal. At depths the water has a higher C12 content, which can be put down to the undercurrent of underground waters beneath the mass of water of the lake. River waters have a higher level of C12, and similar water is discharged into the lake from the Baikalsk and Selinginsk plants. Despite all this, the concentration of the heavy isotope is rising in Baikal's waters. Over the years 1978 - 1986 the concentration of C 13 rose by 2- 3 promilli, and from 1986- 1988 by another 1.5 - 2 promilli (...a thousandth part). The increase in the weight of carbon in Baikal's waters the authors of the article put down to anthropogenic pollution of the lake, although they do not define the source of the heavy isotope.

The same authors give the pattern of distribution of the light (016) and heavy (018) isotopes of oxygen in the water mass. The surface and deep waters have a higher level of the heavy isotope. In the surface layer this is accounted for by evaporation, and in the bottom layer by the undercurrent of ground waters. The waters of the rivers and waste waters of the plants are close to Baikal's water in their oxygen isotope content.

Also in 1993, V.A.Grinenko (Russia), H.R.Krouse (Canada), and Y.A.Fedorov (Russia) published the results of mass spectrometric analysis of isotopes of sulphur in the surface waters of Baikal in the journal "Geokhimiya" (Russia). 25 samples were analysed in all. The ratio of sulphur isotopes, light 32 and heavy 34, in Baikal's waters varies from +7.6 to +23.9 promilli, on average +12.2. The coastal waters characteristically have a higher ratio than waters of the central part of the lake. They have a higher heavy isotope content. This is due to the fact that coastal waters are replenished by underground water or waters, forming as a result of the dissolving of salt-bearing deposits.

The sulphur isotopes of the BPPP waste waters are differently distributed. In these the isotope ratio varies from +5.5 to +6.4 promilli, on average +5.9. This is half as much as the average isotope ratio in Baikal's water. The plant's waste waters have a higher light isotope content. And the light isotope is higher in the zone immediately around the point of discharge. Here, the isotope ratios are the following: +3.3, +3.9,+4.1 and +5.6 promilli. A jet of pollution in Baikal's waters has been determined according to sulphur isotope ratios. It stretches from the mouth of the river Bolshaya Osinovka in an easterly direction to a distance of 15 kilometres. It is 3 to 4 km. wide and has an area of 45 - 60 square kilometres.

The question of the degree of pollution of Baikal by the waste waters of the BPPP was specially studied by K.K.Votintsev. Over 15 years of the Plant's operation 800 thousand tons of mineral salts, mainly sulphates and chlorides of sodium, have been discharged into Baikal in its waste waters. Bearing in mind the volume of water in the lake, 23 thousand cubic kilometres, the discharged salts evenly distributed over the entire volume would raise the mineralization of the waters by only 0.0035 mg/l. And such a rise makes no virtual change in the water's quality. However, the discharged salts are unevenly distributed. It is mainly South Baikal that is being polluted in the area of discharge of the BPPP waste waters. Votintsev continues: "Despite such an optimistic conclusion, there is no doubt that Baikal's waters are being polluted, and this is impermissible. Since we do not know when, and with what concentrations of substances discharged with industrial waste waters, the lake will not be able to return to its natural condition, the danger of such a possibility for Baikal is real and very great."

At the present, seemingly insignificant, stage of pollution of the lake we already encounter examples of the impact of pollutants on its plant and animal life. Highly toxic organic substances have been found in significant amounts in plants, zooplankton and the fat of nerpa. All this I would like to consider in later publications. Here, however, I would point out that pollution is not only coming from the BPPP. In the fat of nerpa, for example, organochlorine pesticides (DDT) have been found. Pesticides from agricultural lands are brought to Baikal with river waters. And although their content in Baikal's water is very low, they accumulate in nerpa fat and are passed on to the young with the mother's milk. The Baikal nerpa is not contaminated to the same extent with DDT as, for example, the seals of the Baltic. The amount of DDT in its fat is small. However, the very fact of contamination is disturbing.

Baikal is becoming polluted. Pollutants are having an impact on its plant and animal life and lowering the quality of Baikal water. The awareness of this has led us to the conclusion that it is essential to convert the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Plant. Today the search is on to find ways for this conversion...

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