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  Main arrow Baikal Discovery Digest arrow Lake Baikal Ecology arrow Dreader about Lake  

Dreader about Lake


Date: Thu, 14 Jan 1999
(Paul Fiondella)
Subject: Re: Lake Baikal


I read with some amazement the report of Mark Maslin's value laden remarks concerning Lake Baikal. I think the readers of JL are e Ntitled to a more objective understanding of the Lake's ecology. According to Maslin, a marine geologist, "we concluded that the ecology of Lake Baikal had been unaffected by all the pollution the SU could throw at it because of the Lake's immense size." "Our study shows the environmentalist's assertions (that the Lake is in danger) to be wrong."
  Apparently Mr. Maslin's study couldn't find concentrations of heavy metals in the Lake sediment where he looked. But this should not surprise anybody since environmentalist have been pointing to the food chain for concentration of dioxin type chemicals not the water or the sediment.  For those unfamiliar with Lake Baikal, it is a minerally deprived and organically deprived lake holding 20% of the world's fresh water. The concentrations of chemicals and organic compounds in the water is so low that water quality approaches that of distilled water. You can't find chemicals or organic matter in any concentrations except near point source pollution sites. It is no surprise therefore that you would find no concentration of polluting chemicals filtering out of the water into the sediment. The place to look for these chemicals is in the food chain.
If you fall into the water of Lake Baikal you should last about five to ten minutes before dying of hypothermia. The fishermen on the Lake will tell you what happens next. In two days nothing will be left of your body. It will be eaten to the bone by the fish. There is tremendous competition in these waters for anything organic to ingest. The very thin layer of organic matter is recycled again and again through the Lake's food chain. Heavy metals from the aluminum industries in the Angara river basin (which make the air in Irkutsk unbreathable during the Summer) anddioxins from the obtuse Soviet effort to treat wood pulp on the Lake with heavy concentrations of chlorine end up in the food chain. The concentration of these chemicals in the food chain is the main ecological problem worrying environmentalists. Of course the stress on Lake Baikal as a result of other decisions taken by Soviet administrators has also undermined the ecology of the lake. For example the shallow waters along the shores of the Lake, including the enormous wetlands at the North end, have been flooded due to the building of an enormous dam near Irkutsk. This has had an effect upon fish reproduction and food supply.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union the system for controlling poaching of rare animal species also collapsed. Endangered and rare species including musk deer are being exterminated for the simple reason that there is no money to support the rangers who catch the poachers. Lake Baikal is certainly a beautiful place. It would however be made more beautiful if the aluminum plants were forced to reduce their noxious emissions and if the Baikalsk Pulp Plant were forced to close down. Last I heard this plant was producing toilet paper for export to Korea. What an irony --- from making rayon for jet tires under the guise of national security (the real reason was that the Minister of the Paper Industry wanted a plant in a place where he could invite other officials to go hunting) to toilet paper for the Koreans. Incidentally
I am not a member of any of the environmental groups with which Mr. Maslin appears to be at war, but I do know from three visits to Baikal including many discussions with local scientists that Siberians are not happy either with the internecine quarrels that riddlethe various Western NGO's divvying up the environmental aid dollars nor with the lack of progress being made to protect their Lake by their own Russian "democrats".

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