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  Main arrow Baikal Discovery Digest arrow Lake Baikal Ecology arrow TED Case Studies Lake Baikal Pollution  
 
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TED Case Studies

Lake Baikal Pollution

 

CASE NUMBER:232
 CASE MNEMONIC: BAIKAL
 CASE NAME: Baikal Wood Pulp and Pollution
A IDENTIFICATION

 

 The Issue
  Lake Baikal is the world's oldest and deepest lake.  It lies in southern Siberia, its watershed extending over the Mongolian border.  The lake is revered by the Russian people as a source of beauty and power.  Preservation of the lake, however, has recently come to international attention.  The Paper-and-Pulp
 Mill at Baikalsk has polluted the surrounding region and threatens the pristine conditions that have existed for centuries.  The paper mill produces bleached cellulose that is used in clothing manufacture.  The process, however, produces chemicals and effluent that threaten the more than 1,500 species unique to the lake.  In addition, the economic and political difficulties currently facing Russia pose their own threat – that efforts to preserve the lake may not be instituted due to lack of funding or inability to form a consensus.  The success of Lake
 Baikal has been viewed as critical to other environmental efforts throughout the world.
 Description
  Lake Baikal, the Pearl of Siberia or the Sacred Sea, is referred to as "Ye glorious sea, ye sacred Baikal" in an old Siberian song.  The lake is indeed old:  clay samples taken in 1990 show that Lake Baikal is at least 30 million years old, making it the world's oldest known lake.(1)  Foreigners have referred to the lake as the "Australia of fresh waters", largely due to its tremendous size.(2)  Lake Baikal is located 1000 kilometers inland and extends almost 700 kilometers in length.  (The lake is 395 miles long and 80 miles wide.)  Its shoreline extends 1,245 miles.  Lake Baikal measures 1,637 meters in depth at its deepest, (over one mile) and holds 23,000 cubic kilometers of water.
  Although Lake Baikal has 336 tributaries, most are minor.  The lake has only one major inlet and one major outlet to carry most of its water.  The inlet is the heavily-polluted Selenga River which flows in from northern Mongolia.  It brings in almost one-half of Baikal's water.  The outlet is the Angara, which flows west and powers the hydroelectric turbines in Irkutsk.  Both lie in the southern third of the lake.
  Further complicating the situation, Lake Baikal is a self-contained aquatic system; it is an isolated ecosystem, home to more than 1,500 endemic species found no where else on earth.  Among these unique flora and fauna are the Baikal seal (believed to be a relative of the Arctic ringed seal, 3,220 kilometers away), and the omul, a fish considered to be a delicacy in the region.  Some of the plants and animals can be dated to prehistoric times.  As a result, Baikal is a huge natural laboratory.
  Lake Baikal resides on one of the two deepest land depressions on Earth.  (The other is the Marianas Trench in the Pacific.)  The rift is over nine kilometers in depth.  Little is understood about this huge fault zone.  Hydrothermic vents below the surface cause heavy tectonic activity, with the result of minor earthquakes every few hours.  Three large plates meet in this rift, which seven-kilometer-deep sediment shows to be more than 25 million years old.  Baikal is the oldest, largest, and most unique (species-wise) lake in the world.(3)

 Plans for the paper mill at Baikalsk began in 1954.  The public was informed in 1957;  protests were held, and ignored.  The plant was built on the belief that heating Baikal's mineral-free waters, then spraying them over the pulp of the Siberian pines, would produce a "super" cellulose that could be used to make durable jet tires for Soviet Air Force planes.  This was done during the Cold War under Nikita Khrushchev on the intelligence report that the U.S. was using the same procedure in Foley, Florida.(4)  (In time, synthetics were found to be more conducive to tire manufacture.)  The plant, however, continues to produce, polluting 200 square kilometers of the lake.  This pollution affects the bottom-dwellers of the lake as well, for Lake Baikal's waters are thoroughly mixed, with oxygen found even at the lowest depths.  In addition, the Angara carries some of this pollution westward.
 Baikalsk releases chlorinated organics from the waste chemicals involved in pulp bleaching.  These are of particular concern since they take centuries to biodegrade.  Air pollution surrounding Baikalsk is one of the worst in Russia.  The larch and pine forests in the area also exhibit degradation effects from the pollution.  Furthermore, disabilities in the population are rising, ostensibly a result of the pollution.  DDT levels are higher here, probably from continued use of the toxin by China.  Many other chemical levels show similarities to the U.S. Great Lakes.  This is particularly worrisome, as the food web for Lake Baikal closely mirrors that of the Great Lakes.  While Baikal supports 1,500+ endemic species, however, Lake Superior, by contrast, has only four.  This may be a result of age, however; while Lake Baikal is roughly 30 million years old, Lake Superior is only 10,000 years old.  Having been shown the detrimental effects of such pollution in the Great Lakes, it will be necessary to closely monitor the Baikal seals for possible health hazards.(5)
 Pollution also occurs from the Selenga River.  This tributary is the main inlet to Baikal, contributing almost one-half of Baikal's water inflow.  Sediment and waste from three large Mongolian cities, as well as human and industrial wastesare carried by the Selenga.  Thus far, the most noticeable effect has been decreased spawning rates for the omul, an endemic fish considered a delicacy.  The coal-burning plants in Slyudyanka, furthermore, contribute to acid rain, which in turn further pollution in the lake.(6)
 In April 1987, the Soviet government issued a decree to protect Lake Baikal.  Shore logging would cease.  The industrial plants were to be converted by 1993 to correct for the environmental damage that had been done.  Mikhail Grachev, a molecular biologist, was appointed the director of the Institute for Limnology at Irkutsk in 1986, (the Siberian branch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences) and was directed to study Lake Baikal.  In 1988 the Center for the Great Lakes Studies entered into a joint project with the Institute of Limnology.  An international ecological center was instituted at Baikal in 1990.  UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is considering classifying Lake Baikal as a natural treasure of the world, which would then give it international protection.
 Initially, the Soviet government intended to build a pipeline to carry the industrial waste to the Irkut River, which is a tributary of the Angara River flowing out of Lake Baikal.
The area, however, has proven prone to slides.  In addition to the possibility of losing the pipeline, the Soviet people initiated a strong grass-roots movement to protest the 'pollution elsewhere' idea, rather than change.  Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that the Soviet Union, and now Russia, is unequipped to fund the project or to organize an international contingent to do so.  Over 100 enterprises operate along the shores of Lake Baikal, most without purification facilities.  More than 700 agricultural facilities leave behind organic chemicals, fuel oil, and solar oil.  The enterprises dump zinc, mercury, tungsten, and other chemicals and metals by the millions of tons into the lake.(7)  Baikal lags far behind the conversion schedule.
 Lake Baikal is currently a test area to determine the extent of the spread of manmade pollutants.  Considering the levels of pollution, Lake Baikal remains in fairly pristine condition.  This is largely the result of its tremendous size.  Its size, however, is what led to the pollution in the first place.  For years, many Soviet officials believed that factories would not harm the lake; its size would disperse the chemicals harmlessly.8  Now, however, it has been shown that pollution at any level is detrimental.
 The current domestic debate, however, rages between those anxious to continue bleached cellulose production at Baikalsk (which provides 3,500 jobs), and those concerned with the environment.  Environmentalists would prefer to let Lake Baikal sit idle, providing instead campsites, health resorts, and tourism.  These, too, bring pollution, but probably not pollution as detrimental as the chemical effluent from the Paper-and-Pulp Mill.
 Baikal has become a symbol of environmental dangers.  The similarities of Lake Baikal to other bodies of water indicate these dangers and the urgency of conservation.  The Great Lakes, although now on a rebound, were in terrible condition.  Lake Baikal has also been compared to Lake Tanganyika, which houses no life.  International participation and funding, however, appear crucial to salvaging the Siberian Pearl.
Related Cases
ARAL case
CASPIAN case
BALLAST case
PULP case
Keyword Clusters
(1):Trade Product = PULP(2): Domain  = ASIA(3): Environmental Problem = Pollution Sea [POLS]4 Draft Author:  Amy Van AllenB LEGAL Cluster5 Discourse and Status: DISagreement and INPROGress
 Almost everyone agrees that Lake Baikal should be protected. Public activism and intervention is largely responsible for the measures taken thus far.  Russia, however, is largely unable to accept the consequences of its actions, with both an economy and a political sector in disarray.  The international community will likely shoulder most of the burden.
6.Forum and Scope: RUSSIA and MANY
 There are many bilateral ties here, most involving joint U.S.-Russian cooperation.  Bilateral agreements involving both China (for their use of DDT) and Mongolia (for the pollution of the inlet Selenga River) are also needed.  The possibility of protection under UNESCO, however, which would proclaim Lake Baikal an international treasure and guarantee it international protection, lend an international scope to the issue.
7.Decision Breadth: 1
 Currently, Lake Baikal concerns only Russia, despite the fact that its watershed extends into Mongolia.  If adopted by UNESCO, the entire international community would be responsible for protecting the great lake.
8.Legal Standing:  LAW
 The Russian decree called for conversion to environmentally safe methods for the industrial enterprises in the area.  For the most part, these have not yet been implemented.  Not much else has been done to help the lake.
C.GEOGRAPHIC Cluster
10.Geography
a. Continental Domain:  ASIA
b. Geographic Site:  SIBERia
c. Geographic Impact:  RUSSIA
11.Sub-National Factors: YES
 The problem of Lake Baikal largely affects Siberia, especially the people using the water from Lake Baikal and the Angara.
12.Type of Habitat: COOL
 Siberia is mostly forest.  Timber logging is the primary resource in this region.  Pollution is affecting the trees.  The Baikal seals are also hunted for their skins and blubber.
IV.TRADE Cluster
13.Type of Measure: Regulatory Standard [REGSTD]
 Thus far, measures are being taken to reduce the amount of effluent that reaches the lake.  Conversion to environmentally safe methods of production are the primary standard here.
14.Direct vs. Indirect Impacts: INDirect
 Reduction of logging has a direct impact on trade in the region.  Less logging means fewer jobs and fewer products.
Logging provides wood for furniture, homes, and paper.  In addition, Baikalsk employs 3,500 people, with its production of bleached cellulose for clothing the second highest in Russia.
Closing the plant poses a serious employment problem.  On the other hand, keeping the plant open fosters deforestation, increased pollution, and further health hazards, as well as species loss.
15.Relation of Measure to Impact
a.Directly Related:  NO
b.Indirectly Related:  YES - TIMBER
c.Not Related:  NO
d.Process:  YES - Pollution Sea [POLS]
15.Trade Product Identification: PULP
16.Economic Data
17.Degree of Competitive Impact: LOW
 These plants could be relocated to other parts of Siberia.
More importantly, they could be converted and upgraded to reduce the pollution impacts.  In general, this is a low impact concern, although the costs to Russia at this time are quite high.
18 .Industry Sector:WOOD
19. Exporter and Importer: RUSSIA and MANY
V.ENVIRONMENT Clusters
20. Environmental Problem Type: Pollution Sea [POLS]
21 Species Information
SPECIES:
GENERA:
DIVERSITY:

 The endemic species of Baikal are largely not at risk of extinction, largely due to the huge size of the lake and its ability to regenerate its waters.  If the pollution continues unabated, which is not foreseen, it may become more crucial.  At particular risk are the Baikal seal and several species of endemic fish found no where else in the world, including the omul and the golumyanka.
22. Impact and Effect: HIGh and Structural ][STRCT]
  Lake Baikal represents both resource concentration problems of pollution and resource depletion problems of conserving both the lake and its unique species.  As a result of the tremendous number of endemic flora and fauna, the resultant impact of losing Baikal is high. Effects are largely structural, stemming from the attempts to control pollution.
23.Urgency and Lifetime: MEDium and 100s of years
24.Substitutes: Biodegradable [BIODG]
 Synthetic substitutes for the cellulose for plane tires have already been found.  Although the substitutes are superior to the cellulose, production has not lessened.  Clothing manufacture has substituted for tires.  The push at the moment is for reduction of pollutants, largely through bio-degradable materials.
VI.OTHER Factors
25. Culture: NO
26Human Rights: NO
27. Trans-Boundary Issues: YES
 Since the watershed for Baikal extends into Mongolia, and Mongolian and Chinese waste have contributed to Lake Baikal's pollution, this is a trans-boundary issue.
28. Relevant Literature
29. Batalin, Alexander.  "Looking to Baikal for Help."  Soviet
Life.  No. 3 (March 1990): 30-5.
  "Together to the Bottom of Baikal."  Soviet Life.
 No. 2 (February 1991): 44-9.
Belt, Don.  "Russia's Lake Baikal: The World's Great Lake."
  National Geographic. Vol. 181, no. 6 (June 1992): 2-39.
Filipchenko, L.  "Turbid Waste Water Continues to Pollute
 the Unique Lake."  Current Digest of the Soviet Press.
 Vol. 41, no. 18 (31 May 1989): 28-9.
Grachev,Michael.  "Slow renewal of deep waters."  Nature.
 Vol. 349, no. 6311 (21 February 1991): 654-5.
Kuchlick,John R., et al.  "Organochlorines in the Water and
 Biota of Lake Baikal, Siberia."  Environmental Science
 and Technology.  Vol. 28, no. 1 (January 1994): 31-7.
Maddox, John.  "Ambitions for Lake Baikal."  Nature.  Vol.
 339, no. 6203 (12 January 1989): 111.
 "Baikal centre takes step forward."  Nature.  Vol.
 341, no. 6242 (12 October 1989): 481.
Sutton, Christine.  "Plumbing the depths for cosmic rays."
 New Scientist.  Vol. 141, no. 1908 (15 January 1994):
 14.

Weiss, R.F., E.C. Carmack, and V.M. Koropalov.  "Deep water
 renewal and boil.ogical production in Lake Baikal."
 Nature.  Vol. 349, no. 6311 (21 February 1991) 665-9.
Yegorov, Alexander.  "The Lessons of Baikal."  Soviet Life.
 No. 2. (February 1989): 30-3.
Zubkov, Pyotr.  "Buryatia: A Republic on Lake Baikal."
 Soviet Life.  No. 3 (March 1988): 41-7
 References
1. Alexander Batalin, "Together to the Bottom of Baikal,"
Soviet Life, no. 2 (February 1991): 44.
2. Pyotr Zubkov, "Buryatia: A Republic on Lake Baikal," Soviet
Life, no. 3 (March 1988): 45.
3. Don Belt, "Russia's Lake Baikal: The World's Great Lake,"
National Geographic, vol. 181, no. 6 (June 1992):17.
4. Ibid., 8.
5. Belt 20, 33, 36, 38 and John R. Kuchlick, et al.,
"Organochlorines in the Water and Biota of Lake Baikal, Siberia,"
Environmental Science and Technology, vol. 28, no. 1 (January
1994): 36.
6. Belt 20 and 16.
7. L. Filipchenko, "Turbid Waste Water Continues to Pollute the
Unique Lake," The Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. 41,
no. 18 (31 May 1989): 28.
8. Zubkov 45.
From http://www.american.edu/projects/mandala/TED/baikal.htm

 
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