A toxic river runs through it

High rates of toxicity found in Russian waters

Feature story - 8 June, 2010
Russian waters are being poisoned by hazardous substances that sometimes exceed hundreds of times the safe limit as set by authorities. This was the finding of an historic ship tour as the Greenpeace flag sailed into Moscow for the very first time to raise awareness of the impact of industrial pollution on the rivers of Russia.

Action Against Toxics in Russian Rivers

A banner reading "Putin! Ban toxic discharges to our rivers" is displayed from the bridge over the Moskva river. © Greenpeace / Vadim Kantor


The four-week tour saw the crew of the ship take water samples close to industrial waste water discharge pipes from Moscow to St Petersburg. We got these samples analysed for the presence of toxic chemicals - and found them.

In St Petersburg, some of these samples were requested by local residents concerned over the quality of their water. The analysis of the discharge from toxic waste dump into of the river Izhora (a tributary of St Petersburg's Neva river)  revealed a variety of toxic substances in very high concentrations. The water contained substances like heavy metals, PCBs, phthalates and phenols, exceeding by dozens and hundreds of times the maximum allowed concentrations.

Toxic river?

© Vera Kochina / Greenpeace

“Mercury and oil products are being dumped freely into local waters, which are badly swamped with copper and other heavy metals as well as other toxic pollutants,”  said Dmitry Artamonov, of Greenpeace Russia.

Samples were also taken from discharges from two waste water facilities within St Petersburg - one of them located in the centre of the city. It was found that in one of the discharges, the waste had concentrations of oil products exceeding 300 times the fixed standard. The content of copper in the same discharge proved to be 94 times above the existing norms.

These rivers flow into the Neva river, which in turn flows to the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea.

In Moscow, the levels of toxicity of the Moskva river upstream and downstream of the capital are radically different, indicating that the city is an important source of pollution.

The pollution of waters throughout Russia is a cause of concern. On the other side of the country, Lake Baikal, a World Heritage Site, is threatened by a pulp and paper mill which has been allowed to dump toxic waste into the world’s largest freshwater reservoir.

Faced with the disastrous state of Russian waters, Greenpeace calls on Russian Prime Minister Putin to take action to end toxic pollution of Russia’s waterways and lakes.