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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wasteland, Literally, at Housing Site

Living in Moscow can be hazardous to your health: This is clear to everyone who settles here. From dangerously icy streets filled with smelly, noxious automobile fumes to factories in the city center spewing pollutants into the air, the hazards are too many to enumerate.


Recent arrivals to the city often manifest their distress, developing breathing difficulties they never had before, breaking out in a rash, suffering headaches. But foreigners have the option to leave; Russians must accommodate to life in an ecological disaster zone. Their only hope is greater responsibility by those with the power to do something about this appalling state of affairs.


In the old days, before the advent of glasnost, Moscow's environmental dangers were simply hushed up. Now they are written about, but the negligence has not ceased.


Take the case of the radioactive rubles. Why have experts discovered ruble notes emitting radiation up to six times more intense than the amount needed to cause skin burns? It staggers the imagination but, according to a Central Bank spokesman, police might have marked the banknotes with radiation to catch kidnappers.


In the negligence department, however, this year's prize goes to the city officials behind the plan to build a housing development for thousands of people on what can only be described as a chemical dump.


The site in southeast Moscow, Lyublinskoye Polye, is a valley awash in harmful chemicals. Environmentalists say the fields where the apartment blocks are going up are tainted with cancer-causing heavy metals like mercury and strontium. Industrial waste from factories upstream is dumped in the Moscow River, which flows past these fields. Sewage drains into the valley, its foul stench competing with pollutants thrown into the air by the oil refinery nearby.


All this raises some questions. Why did the city start building the new flats on a contaminated site? Why did Mayor Yury Luzh-kov tour the site last week, presenting it as a Moscow showcase? Why are the authorities hoping to move people into the new site by August? What could possibly convince anyone to take up residence there?


The reason why the authorities can get away with this is simple: Moscow's housing shortage has been at crisis level for decades. People are so desperate for living space that they are willing to be housed virtually anywhere. And with 750,000 Muscovites on the waiting list, the authorities apparently have no fear of being unable to fill the new flats, even if they are built on a dump.


The "democratic" era should have brought an increase in civic accountability. But clearly it has not among the city officials behind this plan, whose irresponsibility is matched only by their cynicism.