After numerous social media users were left dismayed by photos of a crimson-hued river in northern Russia, a mining company confirmed the river was turned red by metallurgical waste.
Norilsk Nickel, the company based in the Arctic town of Norilsk in Siberia, said in a statement that the water of the Daldykan River was turned bright red due to waste.
Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest producer of nickel, said a dike at its plant overflowed and red waste ran off into the river.
“On the 5th of September after abnormal heavy rain,” Norilsk Nickel said, “the overflow of one of the dikes occurred, and water entered Daldykan River.”
It added that “short-term river color staining with iron salts presents no hazards for people and river fauna.”
Environmental activists said the company can’t make that assumption on the environmental impact.
“You can’t just say that it’s no big deal. Right now there is a ministry of environment commission there,” Greenpeace Russia official Alexei Kiselyov told The Guardian. He noted that Norilsk Nickel had controlled access to the entire Taymyr Peninsula, where the spill happened, and prevented investigators from looking into pollution from its plants.
Groups that represent indigenous populations in the region said local media outlets blacked out the incident, without informing the public of the accident.
“We had a report after it happened that claimed the river colour came [naturally] from clay. That is just laughable to local people,” said Sidor Chuprin, an activist for indigenous people in the area, according to the Guardian.
He said locals are concerned about the Daldykan River because they fish downstream.
“Of course, this is in their interest,” Chuprin added, referring to Norilsk Nickel. “We are not experts; all we can do is take a picture.”
Siberia’s Norilsk region is considered among the most polluted areas in the world.
Photos of the red river were shared heavily on social media last week.