Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Russian Paper Mill Takes on Lake Lovers

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Russian Paper Mill Takes on Lake Lovers

Article excerpt

Less than 100 yards from where the Baikalsk paper mill flushes its industrial waste into Lake Baikal, Raisa M. Zaikova, the plant's chief environmental engineer, dipped a tin cup into the lake and boasted, "Our backwash is cleaner than what comes from Moscow taps."

For 10 years Zaikova has been sipping from this spot, a sunny strip of shore where children swim beneath the plant's three smokestacks, to prove that the mill is not poisoning the world's biggest and deepest lake.

But she would have to drink Baikal dry to convince many in Russia and in the West that the mill is safe. To save Siberia's great lake, Zaikova's opponents say, the plant must be closed or fitted with Western-designed filters, a project considered too expensive for a former Soviet military plant.

The Baikalsk Cellulose-Paper Plant was built in the 1960s by the Soviet armed forces on the southern shore of Lake Baikal, about 100 miles from the Mongolia border.

Scientists believed the lake's water, crystal clean and nearly mineral-free, was the magic ingredient for superdurable cellulose, a fiber extracted by boiling wood chips and used to make tires and paper.

For 30 years the mill has been releasing chlorides, phenols, sulfates and other byproducts from boiled wood chips into a lake that holds one-fifth of the planet's available fresh water.

Four years ago, the regional government ordered the mill to close this year. Ignoring the order, employees filed to privatize the plant and began seeking foreign customers. Now orders for the paper products are pouring in from abroad.

Pitted against the powerful Soviet military complex in the 1960s, local politicians and environmentalists face an even tougher opponent - 4,500 workers fighting for their jobs and a management quickly learning the law of supply and demand.

"It's unlikely the plant will close," said Aleksandr N. …

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