Paper-Mill Pollution May Land World's Deepest Lake on Endangered Heritage List

lake baikal russia deepest lake photo

One of the world's cleanest lakes, Lake Baikal is rapidly being polluted. Photo by Sergey Gabdurakhmanov via Flickr

Nasty pollutants pouring into the world's deepest and oldest lake from a pulp and paper mill are putting Russia's Lake Baikal -- which holds one fifth of the world's fresh water -- at risk of being dropped off the United Nations' World Heritage List.Ecologists say more than half of the ecosystem of the lake, which was awarded World Heritage Site status in 1996, is affected by the paper mill.

The World Heritage Committee, which kicked off its 34th session Sunday in Brazil, is expected to "discuss the effect of the plant's wastewaters on the unique ecosystem," which supports many plants and animals, the BBC reported:

A representative from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) told BBC News that as a result of the mill, the lake may end up on the list of World Heritage in danger -- or get struck off it altogether.

Sites in Turkey, Bulgaria At Risk Too
Baikal isn't the only site at risk of being dropped from the list, which comprises 890 cultural, natural and mixed properties deemed to have "outstanding universal value." According to UNESCO, 32 sites are in danger of losing their status at the Brazil meeting due to negligence in protecting them. The ancient Bulgarian city of Nessebar -- threatened by uncontrolled construction and over-development -- and the historical Old City sites of Istanbul are among those potentially on the chopping block.

Ecologists and NGOs in Russia have been trying to shut down the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill, which is located on Lake Baikal's southeastern shore, since it opened in 1966. According to environmentalists:

The plant produces bleached cellulose. It bleaches paper with chlorine and discharges the wastewaters into Baikal, dubbed the Pearl of Siberia -- one of the cleanest lakes on Earth.. spewing thousands of tons of dioxins and other harmful by-products into Baikal.

The mill's owners deny the charges, saying they are cleaning the wastewater appropriately, and adding that the facility provides much-needed jobs in the area. Environmental concerns shuttered the factory in late 2008, causing more than 1,300 workers to be laid off, but it was reopened the following summer after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin paid a visit to the area.

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