Posted on 15 February 2010
Over two thousand people gathered in central Irkutsk this weekend to protest the relaunch of the Baikal Paper and Pulp mills, an industry that releases toxic waste into Lake Baikal, the world's single largestbody of fresh water.
Over two thousand people gathered in central Irkutsk this weekend to protest the relaunch of the Baikal Paper and Pulp mills, an industry that releases toxic waste into Lake Baikal, the world's single largest body of fresh water.
Environmentalists, scientists, former mill employees, and several politicians spoke out in favor of the industry's closure and development of cleaner alternatives for the city of Baikalsk on the southern tip of the lake.
They urged Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to cancel the government decree signed in January, which allowed the pulp-producing plant to release waste into the lake.
The crowd cheered as speakers demanded a transparent audit of the dilapidated factory and alternative employment opportunities for Baikalsk citizens.
Over 30,000 people have already signed a petition asking President Dmitry Medvedev to prevent what could become and environmental catastrophe and cancel the government decree which puts short-term financial interests above a sustainable future for the world's largest lake.
“Despite statements that the ban to dump waste from the paper mill into Baikal will be reinstated after 30 months, the official government decree has no such limits," said Evgeny Shvarts, WWW-Russia ecopolicy director.
"The mill owners have broken their promises before, and we have no reasons to believe their words this time. WWF insists on redesigning the plant into a no-waste enterprise, and urges President Medvedev to cancel the decree that lifted the ban to dump waste into the lake that contains 20% of the world’s fresh water”.
The gathering was nearly double the amount of people brought to Irkutsk from Baikalsk to rally support for the plant on the same day a few blocks away.
Due to 25 million years of isolation and a diversity of deep-water habitats, the biodiversity of Lake Baikal - the deepest lake in the world - is unrivaled. Located in the south of Eastern Siberia, it is so large that it has been called an inland sea.
It covers 31,500 sq. km and is 636 km. long, an average of 48 km wide, and 79.4 km at its widest point. Its water basin occupies about 557,000 sq. km. and contains about 23,000 cu. km. of water, that is, about one fifth of the world's reserves of fresh surface-water and over 80 per cent of the fresh water in the former Soviet Union. Its average depth is 730 m. and its maximum depth in the middle - 1,620 m.
Among the lake's many habitats are recently discovered hydrothermal vents at a depth of about 400 meters that support sponges, bacterial mats, snails, transparent shrimp, and fish. There are about 2,500 species of known plants and animals in the lake, of which 1,500 are endemic.