Russia has ecological nightmare Lives shortened

air, land poisoned

October 08, 1992|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW — Due to an editing error, the infant mortality rate in Russia was misstated in yesterday's Sun. Twenty-five percent is not the rate itself, but the expected increase in the rate.

The Sun regrets the errors.

MOSCOW -- Russia gave a shocking description of its poisoned environment and deteriorating health yesterday as the government published its first comprehensive post-Communist assessments of the nation's well-being.

Pollution in every industrial area of the country exceeds acceptable standards, often by many times. One-quarter of the nation's drinking water is unsafe. All major rivers are polluted. Stockpiles of dangerous pesticides around the country are comparable to those of chemical weapons, the government reports said.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The death rate is higher than the birth rate; infant mortality rate, already twice that of other industrial countries, will rise to 25 percent when measured by international standards. Life expectancy is steadily dropping. When the nation's children leave school, only 25 percent are healthy.

Statistics on environment and health were closely kept secrets under communism. The extent of the devastation caused to the country's rivers, air and land in the obsessive commitment to industrialization and development of the Soviet nuclear program only now becoming clear.

For the first time, said President Boris N. Yeltsin, "We are telling the population openly and honestly about the scale of the ecological disaster we have inherited and the state of the population's health."

His advisers, who presented the reports yesterday, blamed the deplorable conditions on 70 years of communism.

"The Soviet economy was developed at the expense of the population's health," said Vladimir Pokrovsky, head of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Victor Danilov-Danilyan, Russian minister for ecology and natural resources, said the environment was unbelievably polluted. "It is a very risky situation," he told a news conference yesterday. "We've found new ways of polluting the water that no one else knows about."

Alexei Yablokov, Mr. Yeltsin's adviser on ecology and health, said the situation was deteriorating daily. The just-published report listed male life expectancy as 63.8 years for men and 74.3 years for women.

"But the most recent data show it has dropped to 63 years for men and 69 years for women," Mr. Yablokov said. That is about 10 years less than life expectancy in the United States.

The two reports will be sent on to various ministries, he said, adding, "Each ministry should work out its own plan of action."

The reports found that:

* Eleven percent of babies are born with health problems, a figure that is likely to increase by 25 percent in the next few years because of environmental problems.

* About 100 of every 1,000 pregnant women have serious health problems.

* In some areas of the country, young people are in such poor health that not a single person could qualify for military duty.

* Dental care is so poor that 98 percent of the population has bad teeth.

* Nutrition is poor; about 50 percent of the population lacks vitamin C, for example.

* More than one-third of the population lives in cities where air pollution exceeds Russia's own permitted levels by 10 times or more.

* Nuclear wastes are poorly handled, threatening health in ways not yet known.

The reports said more than 2.5 million people in Russia alone lived in areas contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Millions more were affected in neighboring Ukraine and Belarus. Another 1.5 million lived in areas of Russia polluted by nuclear blasts at the Semipalatinsk testing range in Kazakhstan.

Forty-two percent of all hospitals have no hot running water, and 12 percent have no running water at all.

In general, said Yevgeny Belyayev, chairman of the state committee for sanitary control, environmental damage has adversely affected immune systems.

"And on top of that, people lack healthy food," he said.

Mr. Yablokov said Russia has 40,000 tons of old and dangerous pesticides that must somehow be destroyed. "It's comparable to what we must do with chemical weapons," he said.

For the next 25 years at least, he said, Russians will be suffering the ill health effects of their surroundings.

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