Russian metals giant Norilsk Nickel has admitted a spillage at one of its plants was responsible for turning a local river blood red.
Russia’s environment ministry last week launched an investigation into the incident after images showed the Daldykan river near Norilsk in the far north of Russia flowing bright red, with local activists blaming the nearby Nadezhda metallurgical plant.
After initially refusing to confirm a leak, Norilsk Nickel – the world’s biggest producer of nickel and palladium – on Monday said heavy rain on 5 September had resulted in water flooding over a filtration dam at the plant and into the river.
“Despite the short-term discolouration of the water … this incident does not present a danger for people or fauna in the river,” the company said in a statement.
Environmental activists, however, insisted that it was too early to judge the environmental impact, since the official investigation was still ongoing.
“You can’t just say that it’s no big deal. Right now there is a ministry of environment commission there,” said Greenpeace Russia official Alexei Kiselyov.
Kiselyov said that investigating pollution from Norilsk Nickel plants was extremely difficult, because its infrastructure was located in remote areas and the firm controlled access to the entire Taymyr peninsula, which lies between the Kara and Laptev seas in the Russian Arctic.
Social media users began sharing photos of the unnaturally red Daldykan River when they were first uploaded on the internet.
A few users suggested iron ore in the ground had changed the river’s colour, but others said industrial waste was a more likely reason.