Russia relaxed air pollution limits in 2021 – and people have only just found out

Air quality that would have been deemed unsafe under Russian law two years ago is now, it turns out, perfectly safe. Changes to the regulations covering air quality were made in 2021 but it was only last month that a group of clean air activists found out.

The limits for ammonia, hydrogen fluoride and nitrogen dioxide have all been raised substantially to the point where air pollution that would have been more than double the previous limits would now be considered acceptable.

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Activists from air quality groups based in cities which include Moscow, Togliatti, Chelyabinsk, Omsk, Salavat, Sterlitamak and Ishimbay, have written to the heads of the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Health and the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor).

The letter reads: ‘To our inquiries, government agencies often respond that air pollution in the cities of Salavat, Sterlitamak, Chelyabinsk, Togliatti, Omsk is within the “established standards”. Having carefully studied the values of the maximum concentrations of pollutants in the air approved by the Chief Sanitary Doctor of the Russian Federation, we saw that some of them were increased by the Decree of the Chief Sanitary Doctor of the Russian Federation dated 28/01/2021.’

Those increases were discovered to be as follows:

  • The limit for Ammonia increased from 0.04 mg/m³ to 0.1 mg/m³
  • The limit for Hydrogen fluoride increased from 0.005 mg/m³ to 0.014 mg/m³
  • The limit for Nitrogen dioxide increased from 0.04 mg/m³ to 0.1 mg/m³

Ivan Kharlamov, an activist from the community, one of the groups that signed the letter, told The Moscow Times that they aim to ‘at least force authorities to explain why they make certain decisions that could create health risks for thousands of people. If they have to justify it, then perhaps they will think next time.’

In another mysterious manoeuvre, the ‘State Register of Objects That Have a Negative Impact on the Environment’ published by the Rosprirodnadzor has changed the way it reports emissions, with all emissions except greenhouse gases being removed from the data.

On VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, ecological group ECOPULSE Togliatti shared a letter they had sent to the Rosprirodnadzor: ‘Until December 2022, the register included a detailed list of declared emitted substances and their volumes for each enterprise. It helped us understand what we breathe.

‘Since 2023, the electronic format of the registry has been changed. Now a detailed list of emitted substances has been hidden, leaving only greenhouse gases.

‘In order to protect our health and preserve the environment for future generations, it is important for us to know what we breathe.

‘Information on environmental pollution is classified as publicly available information, access to which can NOT be restricted (except for information constituting a state secret).

‘According to Article 7 of the Federal Law “On State Secrets”, environmental information is not subject to classification as a state secret.’

One respondent complained: ‘Omsk residents are especially offended: taxes from the main enterprise – an oil refinery (which produces every third Russian liter of gasoline) go to the capital, and Omsk residents breathe muck. And now they don’t say which one.’




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