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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ecological Team Cleans Up City's Waste Dumpers

When the Moscow Radiotechnical Factory handed over 250 cubic meters of heavy-metal sludge to a small trading firm, it thought it had got rid of a major headache, only to find it returning with a vengeance.

A routine checkup by the city's ecological inspectors found that the storage tank for the sludge had been emptied for repairs. The sludge, which contained nickel, lead, cyanide and zinc, was dumped at a construction site on the outskirts of Moscow.

Because the intermediary firm, called TSKh, had disappeared, the committee fined the factory 20.5 million rubles ($6,800). Much worse than the fine, the factory will also have to fork out 1 billion rubles for the cleanup.

"This shows companies in Moscow how expensive pollution can get," said Viktor Vlasov, first deputy head of the city's ecology committee. "We keep a pretty close eye on enterprises in Moscow."

The factory's deputy director, Alexei Antonov, was philosophical. "We did not know that TSKh could not store our waste, otherwise we would have never signed a contract with them," he said. "We'll pay the fine."

But technical director Vladimir Mashkov called the case a "provocation" by the ecological committee and said the factory was appealing the fine and cleanup fees in court.

Their factory was only one of 672 enterprises caught redhanded by Vlasov's 100 inspectors in the third quarter of 1994.

The inspectors collected 120 million rubles in fines for 1,740 violations of environmental regulations, Vlasov said, adding that "nearly all enterprises in the city are checked annually by our inspectors."

The committee also has a round-the-clock telephone operator who received 570 complaints in three months, including tips that helped catch an enterprise that had dumped oil waste into the Yauza river.

Most factories are fined for pouring out hazardous waste into the city drains, leaving waste on the factory compound without a license, or constructing buildings without a license.

The boom in traffic is the city's second largest ecological scourge, Vlasov said.

Although the city fined one-fifth of the nearly 50,000 cars checked during a clean-air campaign last month, Vlasov said there was little it could do to make oil refineries produce unleaded fuel or change the exhausts of Russian cars.

Other polluters, such as firms which dump waste at a location far from the factory, are even harder to trace, but the committee's laboratories have at times succeeded in identifying the polluter by analyzing the waste, he said.

Russia still has no law regulating waste management and is unable to process much of its industrial waste, forcing factories to store it on their land.

Using both carrot and stick, Vlasov said, the committee now plans to offer tax cuts to enterprises that install small waste-processing plants on their compounds or buy equipment that helps cut the amount of waste produced.

Fines will also be raised, he said.