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Report: Don’t Drink the Water, Don’t Breathe the Air

June 3, 1995

MOSCOW (AP) _ The Soviet Union developed industry with little regard for the environment, and now all of Russia’s big cities have unhealthy air and half its people drink unsafe water, according to a damning new report.

``In the 60 to 70 largest Russian cities, the air pollution level is at least 10 times higher than normal several times a year,″ said Viktor Danilov-Danilyan, minister of environmental protection.

Of Russia’s 148 million people, 40-50 million are exposed to air pollution 10 times higher than normal, and 55-60 million others live with pollution five times higher than normal, said a ministry report released Friday.

Car exhaust accounts for almost 44 percent of urban pollution. The worst exhaust-choked cities are Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The Soviet government paid little attention to environmental protection, developing huge industrial centers that polluted as they produced.

The industrial slump that began with the Soviet collapse has led to some decrease in waste, and environmental awareness has grown, but the government still lacks funds to adequately protect the environment.

``Sometimes, it leads to sad consequences,″ said Danilov-Danilyan. ``We spotted the oil spill in Komi republic only three weeks after it occurred.″

That spill last year sprang from a series of leaks on an aging pipeline. Greenpeace and the World Bank say at least 30 million gallons of oil spilled, making it one of the largest spills ever.

The spill polluted the rivers and streams around Usinsk, home to 70,000 people, and has reportedly reached the salmon-rich Pechora River downstream.

In fact, most Russian rivers are highly polluted, the report said, especially near industrial cities.

The quality of drinking water has deteriorated as protection zones around rivers and lakes have shrunk, giving way to rapidly expanding construction and farming.

The environment ministry report also warned that virtually all of Russia’s radioactive waste storage facilities are overfilled and fail to comply with modern standards.

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