Fears are mounting over an environmental disaster of still unknown origin in Russia’s Far East after residents reported finding dozens of dead sea animals washed onto a beach from the Pacific. Greenpeace Russia said tests conducted on water samples taken from Khalaktyrsky beach in Kamchatka krai showed petroleum levels four times higher than usual, and phenol levels 2.5 times higher. “The scale of the contamination has not yet been determined, but the fact that dead animals are found all along the coast confirms the seriousness of the situation,” the organization said in a statement, warning of an “ecological catastrophe.” Images shared on social media, including by popular blogger Yuri Dud showed dead fish, octopuses, sea urchins, crabs and other marine animals washed up on the shore.
Residents who used local beaches also complained of vomiting, fever, rashes and swollen eyelids. Local surfers first reported symptoms three weeks ago.
Russia’s TASS news agency stated that a leak from a commercial oil tanker was the cause of the contamination, citing unnamed sources. But environmentalists have questioned the notion of an oil spill, telling independent media outlet Novaya Gazeta they fear contamination from a highly secretive industrial facilities located in the area.
Some have suggested that rocket fuel may have leaked into the sea from the military’s Radygino firing range, which is about six miles from the seashore and was used for missile test drills as recently as August.
Vladimir Burkanov, a biologist who has studied marine mammals in the region, told Novaya Gazeta that old stores of rocket fuel kept at Radygino could have leaked into streams from rusted containers.
Local authorities initially sought to downplay the matter, publishing videos of a spotless beach, and stating: “The color of the water is normal, the smell of the air is normal, the beach is completely clean.”
However, as images continued to surface, that approach changed over the weekend. Speaking to reporters on the beach Oct. 4, Kamchatka governor Vladimir Solodov said that regional authorities are launching an investigation into the contamination and would take more samples of the beach, sea water and animal carcasses for further testing. He threatened to fire anyone from the local administration found to have sought to either cover up or exaggerate the situation. (Moscow Times, BBC News, PhysOrg, The Guardian)