The Daldykan River in Northern Russia recently turned blood red, spurring an environmental investigation by the government.

The cause of the dramatic change in color has yet to be determined, but a likely culprit is  industrial pollution.

The river runs near the city of Norilsk, an industrial powerhouse that is also one of the most polluted cities, in one of the most polluted regions, in Russia.

Mineral and metal processing centers are common in Norilsk. In fact, the world’s largest heavy smelting industry is located here and releases four million tons of cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, arsenic, selenium, and zinc into the atmosphere annually.

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Scientists are fairly certain that the red hue is the result of “oxidized iron content,” or waste runoff from the Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant, which employs a quarter of the city’s population and mines a fifth of the world’s nickel and half of the world’s palladium.  

Earlier in the summer, the river turned an even darker red.

Needless to say, officials have warned that the river is potentially toxic, should not be consumed by humans or livestock, and should not be used for irrigation.  

The pollution is a startling example of reckless industrial behavior but it’s not altogether surprising. Throughout Russia, pollution is rampant and those responsible are rarely held responsible.  

When Russia was the Soviet Union, officials viewed environmental regulations as a hindrance to development and barely monitored industrial activity.

By the 1990s, more than 40 percent of the country was showing signs of significant ecological stress.

Since then, the country has maintained a cavalier approach to development. When Russia hosted the Winter Olympics in 2012, the rapid development of Sochi came at a huge environmental cost.

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Mining and industrial processing have reduced whole towns to charred and lifeless lumps of land. Rivers in industrial zones are clogged with waste and the air in certain regions is so contaminated that it burns the throat.

Nuclear waste, meanwhile, looms as an ecological disaster over some of the environmentally diverse parts of the country.

In this context, a blood red river is sensational and disturbing, but it’s just one facet of a much larger problem.

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Defend the Planet

This River in Russia Has Turned Blood Red

By Joe McCarthy