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Mechel is dusting eyes

Mechel is dusting eyes

15.12.2010 — Analysis

The Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant (Mechel OJSC) announced that it has made substantial progress in environmental protection. The company's Press Service stated that the major repairs completed in steelmaking shops made it possible to halve hazardous air emissions. The experts interviewed by the RusBusinessNews columnist are of opposite opinion: the reconstruction of the electric furnaces increases the plant's efficiency, but does not result in any environmental improvement in the region.

The Press Service of Mechel reported another environmental achievement: at the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant major repairs were completed at the gas cleaning system at one of the workshops, contributing to better disposal of hazardous substances. In addition, there was "completed cleaning of the duct, mud piping, and scrubbing droplets separator as well as inspection of the related auxiliary equipment". All the repairs are performed within the framework of the long-term environmental program, implementation of which only within the last three years resulted in a 49% reduction of solid emissions. All in all, 5 billion rubles will be spent on specialized equipment till January 2012. Then, the Governor of the Chelyabinsk Region Mikhail Yurevich demands that the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant should comply with the standards for maximum permissible emissions.

Andrei Novosyolov, head of the Environmental Protection Department at the Ministry for Radiation and Environment Safety of the Chelyabinsk Region, thinks that the announced numbers should be taken with less enthusiasm. The reduction in emissions can be connected with the economic 2008-2009 crisis and with changes in the type of work. He states that contrary to its announcements, the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant is still among the main air contaminators emitting dozens of thousands of tons of dust.

According to Alexander Korbut, head of the Environment and Environmental management Department at the Chelyabinsk Administration, in 2008, the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant discharged into air 83 thousand tons of hazardous substances (65% of the total amount of the polluting substances). The "winner" place belongs to the coke and chemical production that takes the lead in emissions of benzapyrene, phenol, formaldehyde, carbon oxide, and heavy metals. The gap between the metallurgical plant and its "rivals" is becoming larger: based on the report about environmental situation for 2009, the contribution of the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant to city emissions amounted to 76.8%.

The Chelyabinsk meteorological center informs that the metallurgical plant has its finger in pollution of water environment, discharging about 30 chemical compounds in the Miass River: the discharged waste has aromatic hydrocarbons, metals, hydrogen sulphlides, fluorides, cyanides, etc. Experts estimate that the plant discharges about 30 million cubic meters of commercial waste annually.

In the meantime, the experts doubt that the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant is going to spent 5 billion rubles on reduction of hazardous emissions. First of all, the amount of investment announced for four years looks too implausible: the environmental program developed for the Chelyabinsk Region makes provision that in 2009-2010 all the industrial enterprises of the region will spend 1.4 billion rubles on environment. It is doubtful that within the year period remaining until the X-hour, Mechel will allocate billions of rubles to reduce its emissions. Secondly, the supervisory authorities say that the metallurgical company simply plays cunning.

Anatoly Yekimov, the environmental prosecutor of the Chelyabinsk Region, told RusBusinessNews that by earmarking money at renovation of production facilities, the metallurgical company is interested first of all in improvement of operational efficiency rather than in environment. Environmental measures are seen by the metallurgists as investment in infrastructure - whereas the supervisory authorities mean installation of filters, construction of waste treatment facilities, etc. Along with that the Metallurgical Plant has substantial problems: in the first half of 2010, according to the prosecutor, Mechel did not allocate a penny for reduction of emissions. Only under pressure from the law enforcement authorities, the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant resumed the construction of the facility for mechanical and biological wastewater treatment, the completion of which was scheduled for 2009.

The inspection performed by the Regional Ministry for Radiation and Environment Safety revealed that Mechel did not follow the approved by the governor action plan for reduction of hazardous emissions. The plant had not even started doing some of the planned actions. The authorities had to revoke the permit for emissions above the allowable level, compelling the metallurgists to pay 25-fold penalties for overshooting the allowed levels. Despite the sanctions, the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant is unlikely to fulfill Mikhail Yurevich's order about reduction of hazardous emissions to the allowable level by 2012.

In the meantime, the experts are not sure that fulfillment of its obligations by the metallurgical company will improve the environmental situation in Chelyabinsk. The money that Mechel has to spend on reduction of hazardous substances, acting under pressure from the authorities, do not bring tangible results. For example, in 2006, the company installed a gas treatment plant at the continuous casting facility, reconstructed the fume extraction duct and decommissioned obsolete blast furnaces. However, as it was found during the inspection performed by the Federal Service for Natural Resource Usage and the public prosecution, the gas ducts at the plant are leaky, and the systems can stay idle for hours due to their unserviceable condition, as the employees of the plant do not perform timely examination of the gas-cleaning facilities. Furthermore, environmental control at the emission sources is not provided regularly. The concentration of some hazardous substances is not checked at all, though the plant must compare it will maximum permissible levels by law. It is highly doubtful that the construction of new treatment facilities will be able to recover the situation significantly due to the irresponsibility of the plant's personnel.

The public prosecution has not achieved much in its fight for air cleanness: the company had to pay a penalty in the amount of 185 thousand rubles and some of its managers were held administratively liable. Numerous attempts to suspend operations at the Chelyabinsk plant brought no result: the court dismissed lawsuits - partially for economic reasons (the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plants is a major taxpayer), partially due to gaps in the legislation. Regulatory documents oblige industrial enterprises to apply advanced technologies in production, reducing the burden on environment, but no regulation specifies what advanced technologies are meant. The prosecutor Anatoly Yekimov thinks that such lack of clarity leads to failures in work of environmental authorities.

Experts have noticed direct dependence between emissions of hazardous substances and health of population. According to the Heal Care Department at the Chelyabinsk administration, most of the pregnant female residents of the city (84%) suffer from chronic diseases, which a priori shuts out the possibility to give birth to a healthy child. As for the number of cancer-related diseases, Chelyabinsk is among the Russian leaders.

Vladimir Terletsky

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