Residents of the Russian Far East port of Nakhodka may have less coal dust in their air thanks to a petition from a schoolboy, Andrei Bol, who asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for help.
On June 15, Bol got in touch with the Russian leader on the annual televised “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin,” considered by many to be a political show. Bol complained about the high levels of coal dust in the city, a result of the heavy volume of coal that is transshipped through the port. The president listened, nodding and making some notes. “Of course, this is not good. We have to look at how the work in port facilities is organised,” Putin replied. “It is probably a tradition to have coal transported through the city from or to the port. We have to look at who owns the port, and how it operates.”
But the problem did not arise in June. In early 2017, the five coal handling companies' operations had been temporarily halted on the orders of the Primorsky Region's governor, Vladimir Miklushevsky, in response to residents' complaints about coal dust. Miklushevsky ordered city officials to clean up the dust, but he also acknowledged that the problem was so serious that the stevedoring firms needed at least a year to cope with it.
It seemed that people had to get used to respirators, hoping the situation would change in 365 days. However, Vladimir Putin and young Bol came to the aid of Nakhodka. The Pacific Marine Directorate of Rosprirodnadzor (the Federal Supervisory Natural Resources Management Service) immediately organized snap audits of seaports, including a review of coal handling at the port of Nakhodka. The checkups are scheduled from June 20 to July 20, 2017, with seven companies to be inspected. The result is hard to predict, but one should expect penalties to follow; coal dust in the air, which the residents of Nakhodka have long complained about, could not appear by itself.
The governor of Primorsky also heeded Putin’s words and stated that the problem was known and under control. In Nakhodka, stevedoring companies were ordered to implement dust suppression systems and dust screens. 11 sensors have also been installed to monitor the air purity.
The first sensor, which tracks the coal dust levels in the Nakhodka Commercial Seaport area, was installed just four days after the young resident’s complaint to President Putin. The dust sensor data, which can be monitored online, shows the air to be crystal clear. In addition, there is a new interactive map showing the level of air pollution in the Nakhodka region. Judging by the green color of each pin and the low levels of reported dust, the port's air has become unusually clean.
Is this a miracle or a fake? The air quality in Nakhodka really must improve for residents' health – but such a complete resolution in such a short period of time seems less than likely.
Alex Peters is a contributing author based in Russia.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.