Living dangerously

russian ecologists have started primary investigations into several country areas which are polluted with polychlorinated biphenyls ( pcb s), a toxic carbohydrate which can cause serious health damages.

Anna Danilina, a senior expert of the Russian State Environmental Committee and a member of the special commission to investigate the existence of pcb s, said since Russia "never had any knowledge of the existence of those substances in the environment... the findings would be startling'. Widely used because of their inflammable and non-conducting features, pcb s have been manufactured in the former Soviet Union since 1934 under the names of sovol , sovtol and gekson at the various production facilities, including Orgsteklo company in the city of Dzerzhinsk in central Russia, and at the All-Russian Science and Research Center in Ufa, the republic of Bashkirtorstan, Central Russia.

Russia stopped the production of pcb s in 1995, though material manufactured earlier is still in use and worse, their numbers are still unknown, said Danilina. In the former Soviet Union, most of the pcb s produced were largely used in different electrical facilities, such as condensers and transformers at the electrical power stations. Danilina provided examples of such facilities, located in the far-north city of Norilsk and Archangelsky region.

The concentration of the pcb s in the milk of feeding mothers in Archangelsky is one of the highest in Russia: one litre of mother's milk contains 15:28 microgrammes of pcb s.

Danilina believes that the problem of pcb s, which she calls a "chemical aids ', can only be resolved at the government level. "During the Soviet era, the government considered pcb s as "safe' chemicals, she said.

Another problem for Russia is that it lacks the technology on how pcb s can be utilised. Several countries such as Denmark, the us and Norway have agreed to finance Russia track down pcb s.

According to estimates of the commission, which includes representatives from the ministry of economy and Russian United Energy Systems, the company which controls the country's power grid, us $400,000 is needed to investigate the problem in Russia. If the financial back-up for the project is provided, Danilina feels the commission will complete its investigation by June next year.