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Ryazan Oblast Launches Criminal Investigation of Sewage Plant

Russia’s Ryazan Region has opened a criminal investigation after it was discovered that a sewage treatment plant there had been releasing untreated wastewater into the local environment for several months. Many thousands of people have been put at risk by the leak, although a major outbreak of disease has been avoided.

The sewage treatment plant in question was owned by the local vodokanal (water utility) but operated by a local private company on license. The plant was built during the Soviet era, but still operates to current standards when properly managed and maintained.

The sewage release was only discovered when locals contacted the local environmental prosecutor’s office, prompting a site visit this month. It was found that sewage was passing through the plant without any treatment being applied before it was released into the local environment.

The company operating the plant and its employees were reported to be uncooperative with the investigation. The prosecutor’s office estimated from the amount of environmental damage in the vicinity that the leak had been in place for approximately three months, possibly more if the treatment ability of the plant declined gradually.

Wells were polluted and the Oka River was affected. The city of Ryazan (popuation 524,000) lies 200 km south of Moscow and takes much of its drinking water from the river. It is thought that the leak was far enough away from the city to ensure that diffusion protected the population from serious pollution and risk of disease.

The immediate criminal investigation is focused on the operating company and individual staff members. The vodokanal is also facing administrative charges of negligence in failing to ensure that the plant was operating according to procedures and to local standards.

A committee of the local government has been set up to look into ways management and infrastructure can be improved across the region as a prelude to launching a clean water program in the area to upgrade the aging treatment plant and pipeline networks.

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