Thursday, July 2, 2020

Russian Rivers Dumping Heavy Metals into Caspian, Sparking Concern among Littoral States

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – Environmentalists from Russia’s south and Kazakhstan say that the Volga and other rivers are duping lead, mercury and zinc into the Caspian and that these heavy metals are having a negative impact on the flora and fauna of that body of water, not just for Russia but for all the littoral states.

            Russian and Kazakh scholars met last week to discuss the ways in which environmental factors are interacting with economic issues as a result of the flows of the Volga and Ural rivers into the Caspian (

            Vyacheslav Zaytsev, a specialist on hydro-biology at Astrakhan’s State Technical University, says that researchers have found that in the water, animals and seabed of the Caspian are significant amounts highly toxic elements like lead, mercury and zinc and that most of them have come into the sea from the Volga and other Russian regions.

            Gulzhamal Tulemisova, an ecologist at Kazakhstan’s Aktau State University, says that this is now a major concern “for all five states of our region which border on the waters.”  Other rivers are bringing these elements into the closed sea, but it appears that most of them have come via Russia’s Volga. 

            Russian and Kazakhstan experts had been meeting regularly to share information and craft strategies to deal with the situation in the northern reaches of the sea for some time, until these sessions were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. All five littoral states have met albeit less frequently as part of the Commission on Water Bioresources.

            Recently, the littoral states have been  hit by another problem that has attracted more attention and taken resources away from efforts to deal with the heavy metals. That is the spread of fires in dried-out wetlands in many of these countries, including the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan.

            The participants at the meeting said that they had good data on the extent of the problem but that in many cases, their central governments were less interested in addressing the issue than they should be.  One participant said the Caspian isn’t in as good shape as it was 50 to 100 years ago but that the littoral states know that the situation is better than in most European countries. 

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