Yakutsk landfill fires: chronology of events, mayor's office reaction, disputes about landfill closure

Landfill fires
On the situation with the city garbage landfill and how the authorities plan to solve the problems associated with it - in the News.Ykt.Ru article.

For more than a week, they extinguished a fire that occurred at a landfill along the Vilyuysky tract in Yakutsk on the night of March 12-13.

On March 13, after the publication of footage of smoke in the landfill, the Yakutsk Mayor's office commented that firefighters were working at the landfill to contain the spread of fire, as well as equipment for the delivery of bulk materials for extinguishing. The acting head of Yakutsk, Roman Sorokin, noted that "these measures did not allow the fire to spread." The mayor's office assured that there is no open fire at the landfill.

However, the footage taken News.Ykt.Ru On the evening of March 14, with the help of a quadcopter, tells the opposite.

On March 14, acting mayor Roman Sorokin visited the landfill and stated that "exceeding the maximum permissible concentration of suspended particles in the air was detected only near the landfill." According to the city administration, this landfill "meant to be for a period of 10 years, was full, and had to be closed no later than 1989."

On March 15, journalists of News.Ykt.Ru went to the landfill and during the shooting from the quadcopter again found small areas with open fire.

The acting mayor, who was present at the landfill at that time, when asked about how many times the landfill burns a year, replied, "There is no such thing as ‘how many times the landfill burns.’ There is not even a concept, for comparison, ‘how many times a small child should get sick.’ It's all about life."

According to him, due to the full landfill, there occur processes of rotting and gas release. In this regard, there might be an unexpected release of gas, during which an inflammation appears. "Some two cans will collide with each other, and, accordingly, there will be a spark — this is more than enough to start a fire. Such moments sometimes occur, and it is needed to extinguish the fire quickly," Sorokin explained.

He added that the landfill was put into operation in 1968, but garbage began to be taken there since 1964. "Therefore, today we have an acute issue of landfill reclamation. As we have repeatedly reported, we have developed design and budget documentation. The only thing we need is the opening of a new polygon. We are waiting for it to be opened, and, accordingly, we will start work on reclamation."

When asked if there is a membrane between the ground and garbage at the landfill, Sorokin replied: "Do you understand what kind of technology was in 1964? In 1964, there was not even a concept of what a membrane was, even, perhaps, there was no such word. There was nothing. There was just ground, and that's all. Just dumping garbage, without any internal layer."

He said that the cause of the fire will be known according to the results of examinations. At the same time, Sorokin noted that the cause of the fire that occurred at the landfill in January of this year was "the release of gas from garbage deposits." "The experts say that when it is minus 30 degrees here on the street, then it is 50-60 degrees inside the polygon. Thus, regardless of what is happening here, outside, there is quite a very warm temperature there," Sorokin concluded.

Yakutsk is enveloped in smoke. Not only the residents of the Vilyuysky tract and the surrounding areas, who contacted the News.Ykt.Ru editorial office, suffered from the strong smell of burning - the smoke spread throughout the city.

The same evening, the Mayor's office transmitted information from the Department of Rospotrebnadzor in Yakutia, according to which an excess of the concentration of pollutants in carbon monoxide was found to be 7.14 mg/cubic meter (with a maximum permissible 5 mg/cubic meter). Rospotrebnadzor clarified that the excess is right next to the landfill.

However, on March 16, the mayor's office reported that, according to the latest data, no excess concentration of harmful substances in the air was detected. "According to preliminary forecasts, the smoldering will be completely stopped tomorrow," the press service of the Mayor's office reported on March 18.

On March 20, the chief engineer of the Municipal Unitary Enterprise Zhilkomservis, Yuri Silchenko, said that they would try to finish the elimination of the fire on the same day. "The object of ignition is complex. <...> A lot depends on the speed and direction of the wind," he said.
The fire was extinguished and covered with sand until March 21 by dozens of dump trucks, bulldozers and units of other heavy equipment. According to the city administration, at the time of the fire, the fire area was 3,000 square meters.

"On March 21, it became more or less - there was not much smell. Before that, there was always a smell. All the neighbors in the messenger group of my apartment building complained that there was an awful smell in all apartments, and that they were suffocating. It's just that I go out of town from time to time because of this - I have to, the air is fresher outside the city. But even here it is hard to breathe when the wind blows in our direction. It is more tolerable when it blows the other direction," said Victoria, a resident of the apartment building on the Vilyuysky tract.

It turned out that no one can give an exact answer to the question how many times a landfill burns during the year. The Ministry of Emergency Situations of Yakutia does not keep statistics on the number of fires and smoke in landfills — according to the legislation, the municipality is obliged to fix the number and extinguish fires in landfills. However, the Yakutsk district administration has the answer to this question News.Ykt.Ru not provided.

Information about landfill fires and smoke in Yakutsk periodically appears in social networks and the media. In one of the live broadcasts on social networks, the head of the republic commented on the current situation.

"For the last two years, the landfill on the Vilyuysky tract has been burning regularly. There are many complaints from residents. Yes, I live in that area myself and I feel all this perfectly. Now, working closely with the district administration of the city, the government of the republic has decided to close the old landfill this year and introduce a certain part of the new landfill," Aisen Nikolaev said.

Garbage truck drivers talked about what they observe every day. "The landfill is burning constantly. They put it out in one place — it lights up again in another one. There was no such thing that the landfill did not burn and smoke. After all, it is necessary to compact the landfill waste and cover it with soil. But none of these things is done. They just push everything into one pile, and that's it," says one driver.

The second driver of the garbage truck said that open fires occur at the landfill about once every three months, and smoke is there constantly. "The landfill often burns, once every three months for sure. And so it constantly smokes at some points, all the time in different places. In the past, when the garbage caught fire, they managed to extinguish it immediately. Now, in my opinion, they have no equipment: one bulldozer burned down, and the second one broke down," he said.

The Department of Rosprirodnadzor in Yakutia did not provide a response to the request of News.Ykt.Ru. According to open data posted on their official website, on March 10, the department conducted a "raid event to monitor the state of the environment" on the territory of a landfill on the ninth kilometer of the Vilyuysky tract. According to the department, "during the inspection, smoke coming from the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) landfill was found. Atmospheric air samples were taken in the sanitary protection zone of the landfill" and transferred to the branch of the Center for Laboratory Analysis and Technical Measurements for the Far Eastern Federal District in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).

On March 19, according to the official website, the department conducted another "raid event to monitor the state of the environment" at the landfill. However, there is no information about the results of the checks. The latest news on the website is an explanation of the apparently painful question of the Yakut people "is it possible to purchase black caviar for personal consumption?".

The Republican Information and Analytical Center for Environmental Monitoring responded negatively to the Sinet Team's request to conduct a paid examination of soil samples taken from the city landfill, saying that this was impossible.

"The activities of the Republican Analytical Inspection testing laboratory are carried out under conditions of restrictions caused by the epidemiological situation in connection with coronavirus infection, which predetermines a reduction in the number of specialists in the workplace. In connection with this circumstance, the institution performs analyses as part of planned work. Conducting field inspections with sampling on a paid basis has been temporarily suspended," Lena Volkova, the director of the institution, said in a reply letter.

Zhilkomservis: The landfill is closed from March 31

It should be reminded that at the beginning of February, a document which indicated how the authorities were resolving the issue of the landfill location was at the disposal of the editorial board of News.Ykt.Ru.

According to this document, until March 31, 2021, it is planned to close the landfill on the 9th kilometer of the Vilyuysky tract; until April 1, 2021, the authorities plan to equip waste disposal stations with a temporary accumulation point; until May 1, 2021, it is planned to include the existing landfill in the federal program "Clean Country" to receive subsidies for reclamation; construction of a waste transfer station, and a landfill is planned until March 25, 2023. In the comments to News.Ykt.Ru The State Unitary Enterprise (SUE) "Zhilcomservis" reported that the city landfill was formed in 1974. According to the documents, the area of the landfill is 31 hectares.

"To date, the landfill is overflowing due to an increase in the volume of incoming waste. The capacity of the landfill is 450 thousand tons, as of January 1, 2021, 710,714 tons of waste were placed. Landfill overflow contributes to spontaneous combustion of waste. The ignition of waste occurs during the rotting of waste and the release of biogas, which, in turn, reacting with oxygen, cause a fire," the company explained.

Waste disposal, according to the company, is carried out in accordance with the instructions for the operation of the landfill. "After compacting the incoming waste, an insulating layer (sand) of 0.4 m is poured. Then it is poured off with an additional layer of sand," says the director of "Zhilcomservis" Valeria Bilous.

According to her, in 2018 the facility was included in the federal project "Clean Country'' of the national project "Ecology". The Government of the Republic, together with the city administration, has developed design and budget documentation for the reclamation of the municipal MSW landfill on the 9th kilometer of the Vilyuysky tract. She noted that the company has received positive conclusions of state expertise.

"That being said, by the resolution of the District administration of Yakutsk of December 24, 2020, it was decided to close the municipal MSW landfill on the ninth kilometer of the Vilyuysky tract of Yakutsk from March 31, 2021," Bilous concluded.

The mayor's office clarified: "On March 31, a temporary MSW accumulation point will open on the 26th km of the Vilyuysky tract. The organization of this facility is supervised by SUE "Housing and Communal Services of Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)" and the regional operator LLC “Yakutskekoseti.”

However, the Ministry of Housing and Energy of the Republic reported other information to News.Ykt.Ru:

According to the roadmap, on March 31 of this year it was planned to close the existing landfill on the Vilyuysky tract, 9 km with the arrangement of a temporary MSW accumulation point. In February, it was decided to accelerate the construction of a new landfill on 27 km of the Vilyuysky tract without the arrangement of a temporary MSW accumulation point. The old polygon will work until the new polygon is launched. Documentation is being prepared to extend the life of the existing landfill," the Ministry of Housing and Communal Services of the Republic noted and added "To extend the operation of the polygon new documents are being prepared to be sent to the state environmental expertise. Public hearings on environmental impact assessment were held on the scheduled date, on March 4 of this year.

Author: Nika Gavrilyeva