Moscow smog could be back within weeks

Moscow smog could be back within weeks

02 June 2011

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Russia — The summer smog could be on the way back within the next two weeks, according to the gloomiest forecasts – but officials still insist that everything is under control.

Greenpeace activists warn that Easterly winds, expected in the next few days, could waft smoke in from Shatura, Orekhovo-Zuevo and other parts of Moscow Region where peat fires have returned.

Alexei Yaroshenko, head of the eco-group’s forest department, gave a stark assessment of the imminent return of last summer’s smoke.

“Everything depends on the wind direction,” he told Interfax. “The smell of smoke could come with easterly winds in the coming days.

“There are already more than enough areas of burning peat, and by July Moscow could see another cloud of harmful smog.”

Repeat inferno

Last year wildfires in the east of Moscow Region, and over the administrative boundaries into Ryazan and Vladimir Regions, caused choking clouds of smog across the capital in late July and early August.

And it was largely volunteer fire-fighting efforts which battled with those blazes, while many were critical of a sluggish official response.

But Yaroshenko is concerned that little seems to have been learned since then.

“The situation is developing just like last year,” he said. “The peat bogs are burning just as much, maybe even a little more.”

More politicised

This year the issue is already becoming more political. Writing in Moskovskiye Novosti, Greenpeace’s Grigory Kuksin lambasted the emergency situations ministry for fiddling while Russia burns.

“Rather than extinguish the peat bogs, the ministry directs its power to refute information about where fires are burning,” he wrote.

“Adequate measures to combat these fires are not accepted, instead they are daily ‘closed’ as extinguished, regardless of the actual situation.”

Official line

For its part the ministry has already hit back at Greenpeace, saying the group’s attitude is “puzzling” and complaining that activists don’t bother to alert firefighters to potential problems, preferring to score political points instead.

And regional officials are also confident that things are under control.

“I don’t think Muscovites will suffer,” said Moscow Region’s Vasily Gromov. “We have the peatlands under special control.”

And Moscow’s environment boss Anton Kulbachesky said that the situation was being taken seriously.

“Over the next five years we will not ignore the peat bogs,” he said, adding “there will be bad weather and that will have more impact on the air in the city.”

Not too late

Unimpressed Greenpeace reps say that calamity can be averted – but only if attitudes change fast.

“First we need to check all incoming messages on the fires and respond to them quickly,” Kuksin told MN. “Instead, having received information about burning peat, the ministry will first try to disprove this report.

“When that becomes impossible, only then will the department recognise the fire.”

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