Before leaving home, Daria Afanásyeva and her seven-year-old daughter put on their coats, hats, scarves, gloves and a mask. The mask has become "essential" for a couple of months, says Afanásyeva, 26 years old. It is the only way that this woman and many other neighbors of Sibay, a city of the Republic of Bashkortostan (near the border of the Russian Federation with Kazakhstan), have found to protect themselves from the pollution that emanates from a huge quarry abandoned for a decade; although they know that the white cloth does not protect them from the finer particles.
The situation is so serious that the local Administration, in addition to distributing masks, has installed giant fans to try to clear the "dirty" air cloud that covers the city as if it were a constant fog; so dense that you can almost chew. But they still deny that it is harmful. The neighbors have been complaining for weeks that the air is not only unbreathable, they also say that respiratory diseases have also increased.
Several activists have mobilized and have undertaken a project to measure the levels of different gases near the controversial quarry, as well as in the green and more inhabited areas of the city. Gulfiá Mujamétova, who is also the president of the city's parent committee, is part of the team. And he assures that they have detected levels above the recommended among other things of hydrogen sulfide. He says that this would explain the smell of rotten eggs that flood the city. "The fans are not good for much, the only thing they do is move clouds of smoke to other parts of the city, closer to the quarry," laments the lnur activist Ishkildin.
The authorities recognize the increase in hospital admissions and medical consultations, but deny that they are related to the cloud of gases that come from the Uchali Mining Processing Plant (UGOK). "We do analysis every two hours. Sometimes there are high concentrations of chemicals, but it is rare and depends on the weather conditions, "explains the spokesman of the mayor Rasul Baiguildin by telephone. "Many neighbors are very impressionable and every time they sneeze they believe they have been poisoned with hydrogen sulfide," the local official says, blaming the neighbors' health problems on an influenza epidemic.
Baiguildin also says that they have started the process to "flood" the quarry, something that they hope will put an end to the contamination. The responsible company avoided responding to the questions in this newspaper. But, although smaller, there are other mines and quarries around Sibay. And now the neighbors fear that the problems worsen. In fact, the sanitary statistics of this city are worse than in other surrounding municipalities. And the experts attribute it precisely to quarries such as UGOK. Lung diseases are 1.3 times more common in Sibay and cardiovascular diseases 2.7 times, according to research published by the Russian Academy of Natural Studies.
"Here, if we continue like this, you can not live. When I go out I start coughing, my eyes sting … And I am even more afraid for my daughter ", laments Afanásyeva. Mujamétova says she has been hospitalized with bronchitis and blames it on the pollution cloud. The president of the Parent Committee explains that they demanded the closure of the schools and the declaration of a quarantine in the city, but the authorities denied it. "They are doing everything possible to ignore the problem, but the situation is very serious and who can afford to leave is already doing it. Here you can not be. And less with children, "he says.
The images of his daughters and other children playing in the snow equipped with masks -some, with something similar to gas masks- have caused a stir. So much that they have reached the Kremlin. On Friday, Dmitri Peskov, the president's spokesman, Vladimir Putin, said the state government is aware of the situation and is being investigated.
The Russian government is multiplying environmental problems. Almost at the same pace as the citizen environmental conscience. In another of the mining regions, in Kuzbass, this time in Siberia, the neighbors denounce that the coal dust emitted by the numerous open-cast mines is causing them very serious health complications, in addition to a natural catastrophe. In Kuzbass (2.6 million inhabitants), life expectancy is almost four years less than the average of all Russia: about 66 years for men and about 77 for women due to a mixture of hard work in the mines and the environmental conditions, the neighbors complain.
In winter, they explain, it's much more visible because those particles stain the snow black. And this is shown by the images that some Russian media have defined as "post-apocalyptic". Streets with black snow, cars covered in black snow, the playground overflowing with gray mounds that nobody would say but that are snow.