This is what the damage from the fuel spill earlier this month looked like.
This is what the damage from the fuel spill earlier this month looked like.
Photo: European Space Agency (AP)

Remember earlier this month when a Russian mining company spilled thousands of tons of diesel into a beautiful Arctic river? Well, that company is behind yet another devastating spill. This time, diesel isn’t the pollutant; industrial wastewater is.

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The company, Nornickel, admitted Sunday that workers at one of its metals processing plants released industrial wastewater that was close to overflowing on-site into a nearby Arctic tundra. The company has suspended these employees, as well as opened an internal investigation. Greenpeace Russia said on Twitter that this wastewater likely contains heavy metals, surfactants, and sulfurous acid. None of these are safe for wildlife.

Nornickel said this spill “constituted a gross violation of the factory’s operational protocols,” but Nornickel has a history of doing this type of environmental damage. The diesel spill earlier in June potentially reached Lake Pyasino, a sensitive Arctic lake, and Greenpeace is worried that this dirty wastewater may eventually make its way there, too. The group has reported a “strong odor and dead trees” near where the pipes were releasing the water.

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The Russian Investigative Committee launched a criminal case this month against employees at the company for improperly disposing of untreated wastewater from June 2017 to July 2019. The company has been doing this type of shit for years already, and it’s continuing this tradition in 2020. The environmental damage of contaminating a nearby river and surrounding soil amounted to more than $2 million (154 million Russian rubles), according to the investigative committee.

So far, the company hasn’t flagged any specific environmental damage due to this most recent event. However, the on-the-ground reports from environmental activists are extremely concerning. Independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published videos showing this water entering the environment, and, well, this certainly doesn’t appear to be a small spill. These reporters also captured images of how quickly workers removed the pipes once they alerted enforcement agencies about what was happening. Somehow during the process of trucks removing the pipes, one even crushed a parked car, which happened to be the vehicle prosecutors arrived in, according to Novaya Gazeta.

This saga is full of drama, y’all. Nornickel’s flagrant destruction of the Arctic demands some serious action. These impacts can be especially hard on indigenous people in the Arctic, who are reliant on their natural environment for food and resources.

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What’s perhaps most distressing about all this is that the Arctic is already incredibly vulnerable due to the warming climate. The region will deal with enough devastation from climate change. The Arctic and its inhabitants don’t need mining companies going and making it all the worse by dumping toxic waste.

Yessenia Funes is a senior staff writer with Earther. She loves all things environmental justice and dreams of writing children's books.

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