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Monday, December 17, 2007

Russian Logic 101: If You Kill Everybody, Then You Dont' Have to Worry About Anybody Slipping and Falling on the Ice

The Moscow News reports that Moscow is using radioactive toxins to de-ice its streets:

Ecological considerations are the chief concerns. Last year, the Moscow authorities bought over 14 metric tons of a "new generation" anti-ice agent. The product is produced from chemical residue at the Solikamsk magnesium waste elimination site in the Perm province. In the past two years, 159,000 tons of waste have been moved from the site, as the Solikamsk city hall proudly reports on its official Web site. For some reason - either the 2006 winter was too mild or the government contracting authority suspected that all was not well - the agent has barely been used in Moscow, and is now in storage. Several days ago, officials from the interregional agency, "For the Security of Russian Roads," accompanied by a group of environmentalists, paid a visit to one of the city's warehouses where the agent was stored. Subsequent tests showed that the chemical agent was indeed radioactive.

In October, First Deputy Mayor Pyotr Biryukov ordered Artur Keskinov, the head of the Housing, Utilities, and Amenity Provision Department, together with all deputy prefects, to file suits with the city Arbitration Court. The suit was to demand the replacement of "inferior chemicals," the use of which has been banned since the summer, after they had been found to have an excessive content of insoluble residue and a dangerous pH level. At the same time, the decision was made to return the agent to the supplier - the Perm-based company SBG Treyding.

This year, a contact for the supply of snow- melting chemicals went to the NPP Protivo­gololednye sredstva i reagenty (Anti-Ice Materials and Agents) science and production enterprise (PGS). The agent that it intends to supply is called Ekosol, which is produced at the Urals anti-ice and snow-melting materials plant. Meanwhile, environmentalists suspect that Ekosol is made from the same electrolytic waste, which only recently was used for making SBG.


"Officials at Biryukov's office were furious," says Marina Orlova, press secretary for the Housing, Utilities, and Amenity Provision Department. "They said, ‘If you spread information alleging that we are buying radioactive waste, you will be sued. Ekosol is out of the question. No one will allow it to be used in the streets." She continued, saying that agents containing calcium chloride modified, calcium chloride and modified sodium will be used this year. "They will be supplied by the winner of the tender, PGS."

"As soon as there are any results, we will be ready to meet," a PGS manager, who refused to identify himself, told reporters. "For now, our senior executives are on the run."

"Okay, so we will write, ‘on the run.' We only wanted to know what solid agents you will be supplying," The Moscow News said.

"We receive solid agents from the Urals anti-ice materials plant," PGS said. "This particular agent is called Ekosol, thus far it is the only solid agent available on the market. The manufacturer's brand is not specified in the contract with the contracting authority and we only have a general description: ‘solid composite agents based on calcium chloride and sodium in compressed form,' Ekosol fits this description. As for who will be shipping it to us, that is a commercial secret."

The remark "executives are on the run" sounds rather dubious, especially considering the tender procedure. In October, the Moscow City Com­petition Policy Department submitted a tender for a 1.5 billion ruble ($60 million) contract to supply anti-ice and snow melting materials for the 2007-08 winter season. Apart from PGS, several other companies with a good, established track record on the market made their bids, namely, Ziraks, Avgust 94, Bursintez M, Kaustik, NPO Reagenty, Sokopuskovsky sintez, Reagenty, and Antilyod. Five of six lots were won by PGS, which had first been registered only two months prior to the tender.

The losing companies appealed to the Moscow city authorities, asserting that on two lots, PGS had presented to the bidding commission samples of agents which were protected by RF patents and on which the winner had no licensing agreements with the holders of those patents.

"PGS presented samples of our liquid agent AGS," said Dmitry Kuzmenko, deputy chief engineer at the OAO Kaustik open type joint stock company. "As for solid agents, KhK and KhKNM, they are manufactured by Ziraks at a mineral deposit in Volgograd, while PGS committed forgery by presenting KhK and KhKNM samples taken from a shipment delivered for the previous season. Here's the trick: according to bidding documents, one specific agent is to be delivered, whereas PGS will attempt to replace it with Ekosol. It was previously known as SBG, but starting this year, it has been banned. SBG and Ekosol are identical in their chemical composition, their appearance, and their radioactive effect: both will show exactly the same reading on the dosimeter."

Furthermore, Ekosol's safety assessment says that in large doses the agent can have a mutating effect. Chlorides alter the organoleptic properties of water - that is to say, give it a peculiar flavor and smell, salinate soil, and destroy flora and fauna.

However, after the October amendments to a law on state orders kicked in, the supplier is not obligated to disclose in the bidding documents who produces the agents, or where. The angry producers warned that the Moscow city hall was in danger of being duped and left empty handed, but Gennady Degtev, head of the Competition Police Department, accused the suppliers of collusion, pointing out that they are exerting pressure on the bid evaluation commission.

The Urals plant has denied any involvement in SBG production.

"We do not manufacture SBG," said a plant manager who identified himself as Rustam Khalafovich. "And then SBG and Ekosol are made from completely different materials - magnesium byproducts (SBG) and calcium chloride (Ekosol) - and they are made from components that are bought from different producers. I cannot disclose the names of these producers: that is a commercial secret. As for high radiation levels, that is a lie. SBG does use potassium as a component, which is radioactive, and SBG's radiation level does not exceed official construction safety levels. As for Ekosol, it does not have any potassium in it at all."

That seems to be in conflict with the information posted on SBG trading Web site, which says, among other things, that "composite SBG agents, produced by the Urals anti-ice materials plant, are the most advanced and unique product of the domestic industry." It is also at odds with government specifications, which state that B-brand Ekosol contains as much as 10 percent calcium.

Hold Your Breath

Following the recent inspection, the Public Union of Environmental Organizations sent letters to the city hall and the Moscow City Duma, stressing the need to establish an independent control agency to monitor the quality of agents that are brought into the capital.

"The problem is that one agent can be presented for examination, but an entirely different one can be spread on the city's street," said Andrei Frolov, a Union co-chairman. "That is not against the law. Now, not only producers, but also middlemen can supply agents, and it seems that they will be supplied from, among others, those that have recently been put off limits - in particular, from the Perm province, Solikamsk. Whereas in the past there was at least some guarantee that the agents were not too toxic, now there is none whatsoever."

When asked if he was referring to Ekosol he replied, "I would not like to mention any names, to avoid claims. But the situation is rather complex. Ekosol has safety certificates, which say that although it is dangerous it can be used, but then any paper can be bought. We took measurements: there is absolutely no reason to say that the stuff that we have to walk on is safe. There is a high content of heavy metals. And then all of that dries up and turns into dust, while about 40 percent of everything that comes into our bodies comes from the air that we breathe."

Radioactivity meter readings in Moscow showed that SBG bags had radiation levels three times above natural radioactivity levels.

"Yes, there is definitely cause for concern," said Yelena Ter Matrirosova, PR manager at the Radon MosNPO, a radiation monitoring agency. "But what is the real danger? If you were to eat or drink these agents, that would be very bad. Yet if you just walk on them, there is no danger. For example, granite also has a high natural background radiation level. For example, it is pretty high near the Griboyedov monument on Chistye Prudy, but then no one stands there for hours. So the monument is still where it is."

It seems that Perm is going to use its own product. As soon as it became known that Moscow was determined to return tons of SBG to the supplier, the Perm residents were told about the cutting-edge wonder-working agent. "This winter, the city's streets will be treated with SBG," the local media reported proudly. "According to the Perm city administration, since this technology is entirely new, the agent will be used on a stage by stage basis - at first, in the downtown area. If it proves effective, it could then be used throughout the city."

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