Several large web outlets have shared the astounding pictures of the Daldykan river in the Russian Arctic city of Norilsk that has turned blood red. And it’s not the first time. Locals have posted the pictures on Instagram that has caused the international concern prompting an investigation by Russian officials. We wonder if it did not make the worldwide press if they would have bothered.
The river runs alongside a metal mine and plant. Processing the metals from the ore requires smelters that burn (oxidize) the rock, removing the valuable stuff (nickel and associated rare metals) and leaving concentrated waste, typically consisting of fine-grained iron oxide mixed with water to form a slurry which are dumped into ponds. The waste ponds breach or leak, dumping sediment into the river turning it red. The Verge reported that it happens in other nickel mining areas as well. The sediment eventually settles to the bottom and along banks and the water returns to normal color, as it apparently now has.
Avoid the hype from panic-inducing End Times sites and read the piece from the New York Times that explains that this is caused by lack of strong environmental requirements.
The metal smelters in this ore-rich region produce copious amounts of copper, one-fifth of the world’s nickel — a key alloy in stainless steel — and half of the global supply of palladium, a precious metal nearly as valuable as platinum.
The ore also contains iron, but that red-hued element is far less valuable than the precious metals extracted along with it, and is generally discarded in slurry ponds.
That iron slurry is the most likely source of the discoloration in the “blood river,” environmental groups and Russian environmental regulators said, attributing the red hue to iron oxide, better known as rust.
Is it bad? Yes. The high iron and probably very low pH means that conditions in the river are poor for aquatic life; there is almost certainly none of the original diversity of biota present in this river. The water is certainly not potable (drinkable) even though the article notes it’s not dangerous to humans. Iron bacteria probably won’t kill you but it will make you ill.
Past red river events were caused by red dye or ink from industrial leaks or discharges. That’s what we have environmental regs for, folks. Don’t knock ’em. (Our waterways usually turn weird colors only on purpose.)
More red river valley events: