Expert: None Of Kiev’s Water Outlets Is Suitable For Summer Recreation

KIEV, Ukraine -- “Swim at your own risk” is a sign commonly seen in Western nations at lakes and pools that have no lifeguard to save you from drowning.

A young boy walks alongside a heavily polluted lake located in Kiev near Kharkivska metro station.

But the same sign could be posted at all of Kiev’s 400 or so lakes and ponds – and the banks of the Dnipro River as well. Only the warning would apply to the unsanitary state of the water, as well as the lack of lifeguards.

None of the capital’s water outlets is suitable for summer recreation, warned Anatoliy Yatsyk, former deputy head of the Environmental Ministry.

“Well, you can swim if you want but your fingers may peel,” said Yatsyk, who now heads the Kiev-based Scientific Research Institute of Hydro-Economic and Ecological Problems. “No need for a chemical analysis, just have a look at it. Our fish are always ill and [I wonder] why we still don’t have an endemic from what we eat, drink and where we swim.”

Yatsyk said he would never swim in any of the water in Kiev.

“Don’t forget about Chornobyl,” Yatsyk said despondently. “Ninety million tons of radioactive waste is silted in the [Dnipro] reservoir. That would fill 330,000 train carriages. Some not-so-smart people want to build a bridge above it to connect the belt highway. If they stir up this slime, the catastrophe will be worse than Chornobyl.”

But the sight of blooming algae in murky water does not always stop those willing to cool off, sometimes to their regret.

Health problems stem from water sources becoming contaminated by animal or human waste. Aside from causing chronic diarrhea, contamination can also lead to more serious diseases, such as cholera and leptospirosis, an infectious disease that can cause jaundice, meningitis and kidney failure. Malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis and round worm are also water-borne.

Ecologist Mykola Shchepets said that six cases of leptospirosis – a disease spread by rats and mice in public water pools -- have already been registered this year. “The grass is not being mown, foliage is not collected, disinfestations are not conducted properly,” said Shchepets in May, complaining about lax preparations for the summer season.

However, rodents are not the only reason to stay clear of the water. High ecological standards set by the government are often ignored at industrial and agricultural enterprises in Ukraine. Yatsyk said his institute analyzed 1,670 factories around the Kaniv reservoir, one of the six large man-made pools on the Dnipro.

By law, every company should be classified by ecological standards and receive an eco-passport, specifying the degree to which they can pollute. But none of them do, said Yatsyk. “They [businessmen] don’t get these passports because they don’t want to be controlled. If the quality of water was checked, they would all run away abroad,” he said.

The chief inspector from the Kiev Oblast Ecological Inspection, Galyna Pernikoza, said her agency has problems making the rounds. “When we come to inspect, businessmen say they pay taxes and it’s enough. The problem is with their mentality. They know how to sell water to people, but somehow never heard of certain safety standards,” she said.

Vladyslav Goncharuk, director of the Colloidal Chemistry and Chemistry of Water Institute, said that “the Dnipro is wastewater” and that the city’s wastewater treatment stations aren’t adequate enough to purify it. Nevertheless, over 60 percent of Ukraine’s population – about 30 million – uses this water at home.

In 2006 alone, 650 tons of petrochemicals, 12,000 tons of nitrogen and 67,000 tons of nitrates were dumped in the water, according to rough estimates of the institute of ecological problems.

However, Pernikoza from the state inspection service said that Kiev’s lakes and ponds were safe enough to swim in.

“Apart from the Nivka River where Kiev dumps untreated sewage, water pools are fine and pollution does not exceed norms. That is unless they have been created for technical purposes only,” Pernikoza said. However, she continued, they are certified to check water only against some harmful substances, such as petrochemicals and pesticides. To make more complex analysis, they need specialized bacteriological equipment, which is too expensive to buy.

The problems, however, get stranger than chemical waste from the fields and factories.

Victor Akimov is the chief sanitary doctor in Kremenchug, an industrial city south of Kiev on the Dnipro River. He said that erosion of riverbanks there has reached an old cemetery.

“You can see bones [hanging above the water]. Another cemetery has already sunk,” Akimov said. “And we drink this water.” He is worried that people buried there in 1920s may have had anthrax or cholera, and the bacteria could still be alive and kicking.

But Kremenchug municipal eco-services department did not get any money from the city budget this year to prop the banks and avert further erosion, according to Akimov.

And more erosion is on the way, as laws against building closer than 25 meters to shore are routinely flouted by builders.

The Environmental Ministry is aware of the problem but has little leverage against high-flying owners. “I come to the river bank. There’s a house with a guard who warns me he will shoot if I come any closer,” Pernikoza said. “When we reach the [Kiev] regional administration for explanation, they either say they lost documents on this property or [make up] something else.”

Meanwhile, homeowners “fish from their windows, but I wouldn’t do that if I were them,” Yatsyk said, citing the state of disrepair of Kiev’s sewage collector. “It cleans little and then dumps everything into the water,” he said.

It may be hard to believe in the extent of pollution, but everything is a lot worse than it seems on the surface, concluded Pernikoza of the state inspection agency.

Source: Kyiv Post