Alert as dump including cyanide at zinc plant leaks into Ulba Rover and pollution flows towards Omsk.
An acidic smell causes breathing difficulties as far as 700 metres from the river, according to worried locals on the bank of the Ulba.
Omsk residents, around 1,100 kilometres from the source of the pollution at Kazzinc plant in Ridder, once called Leninogorsk, are stocking up on bottled water, evidently panicked by the impending risk as the polluted water – including cyanide – flows into Russia.
Officials in Russia and Kazakhstan have played down the threat, especially in Omsk, claiming the river will have cleansed the pollution by the time the leak reaches the western Siberian city.
But biologist Dr Sergey Solovyov, from Omsk, warned: ‘It is real ecological disaster. Zinc has a negative impact on the human reproductive function. It impacts on the gastrointestinal system, the nervous system.’
The Ulba is a tributary of the Irtysh River which flows through Omsk, a city of 1.15 million people.
Kaztai Takeev, chief ecologist of Kazzinc, said: ‘There is no acid in the (tailing) dumps … no arsenic. There are cyanides. But the amount of cyanides is within the norm… there are non-ferrous metals, specifically zinc, lead, copper and manganese, slightly above the norm.’
Head of water treatment facilities OmskVodokanal, Viktor Sakharov, said the polluted water is estimated to reach Omsk on around 2 June.
‘Our river has a high self-cleaning ability, so within 100-150 km from the spill the river will clear it,’ he claimed. ‘We spend every hour monitoring the quality of the water, samples are taken at 64 points. Every day we do about 100 tests.
‘The situation is under control and it is not serious. The spill was in one thousand kilometres away from us, so do not worry. Omsk residents can safely drink water.’
Another expert Dr Rinat Valitov forecast: ‘These substances will not reach the Omsk region. There are heavy metals. These elements will quickly settle on the territory of Kazakhstan.
‘Yet I will not comment on what problems will arise among residents of the Republic of Kazakhstan.’