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Sochi Olympics fails to meet ?zero waste? pledge

As a centerpiece of its original Winter Olympic Games bid, Russia promised Sochi would be the cleanest games ever, saying it would refrain from dumping construction waste and rely on wholly reusable materials.
However, the Associated Press (AP) has revealed that Russia’s state-owned rail monopoly has dumped thousands of tonnes of waste into an illegal landfill in Akhshtyr, just north of Sochi, in violation of organisers’ “zero waste” pledge for the Olympics. Akhshtyr residents have also charged that the wells they have used for centuries have dried up since Russian Railways opened a greenfields quarry in the adjacent foothills of the Caucasus Mountains as part of the highway and railroad project it was building between the coastal and mountain clusters. In turn, residents accuse blasts at the quarry of damaging their houses. The aggregate from various quarries Russian Railways operates in the region have been used in the construction of the Winter Games venues in Sochi.
Businessman Vladimir Yakunin, incidentally a long time friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, heads Russian Railways. The company has already admitted liability and been fined for illegal dumping and claims it has stopped the practice. It has also had to deliver daily barrels of water to Akhshtyr residents.
On a visit to the site, AP reporters saw trucks dumping concrete slabs into a gigantic Russian Railways operated pit filled with spray cans, tyres and foam sheets.
In a letter obtained by the AP, the Environmental Protection Agency in the area told the Black Sea resort’s environment council in late August that it had inspected the Akhshtyr landfill and found “unauthorised dumping of construction waste as well as soil from excavation works”.
The Russian government had promised that these would be green games but the construction of roads and the need to construct dozens of hotels has severely affected the environment and residents.
Julia Naberezhnaya, of activist group Environmental Watch on North Caucasus (EWNC), said that huge amounts of money had been spent on preparations for the Winter Games but that they had not had a positive impact on regional development. EWNC charges that it has found eight quarries of questionable legality around Sochi. This includes two illegal limestone quarries in Sochi National Park, one of which was being operated by Russian Railways on land rented by the official Olympic Games construction contractor Olympstroy. Despite charges being brought against the operators in mid-2011, EWNC activists have alleged that these two quarries were still operating into January this year.
Water, air impacts
Senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) members have urged the Olympic body and Russian authorities to investigate the dumping of construction waste that has raised concerns of possible contamination of the water supply. Moisture from the Akhshtyr landfill is believed to have seeped into underground springs that feed the nearby Mzymta River, which provides up to half the water supply in Sochi. Canadian IOC member Dick Pound has called for urgent action to determine the safety of the water supply.
The Sochi 2014 organising committee argues construction has minimised carbon emissions and companies carrying out construction insist they are sticking to their promises to meet international standards in protecting the environment.
?The air and water in Sochi have become cleaner than in December 2007,? Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak claimed.
Olympstroy chief architect Oleg Kharchenko also defended the building efforts and insisted that the Akhshtyr quarry would be recultivated and villagers? houses would be repaired.
But some ecologists say the damage is only the beginning and that construction may have put the region in the path of potential ecological disasters, including poisoned drinking water and flooding.
Sources: NBC, Yahoo News, Irish Times, AP

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