Don’t Eat the Snow

Both the BBC and the Guardian are reporting an occurrence of snow last week in Siberia.

Normally, that probably wouldn’t be news – except that the snow is smelly, oily and orange. From the coverage at the BBC,

Oily yellow and orange snowflakes fell over an area of more than 1,500sq km (570sq miles) in the Omsk region on Wednesday, Russian officials said.

Chemical tests were under way to determine the cause, they said.

Residents have been advised not to use the snow for household tasks or let animals graze on it.

“So far we cannot explain the snow, which is oily to the touch and has a pronounced rotten smell,” said Omsk environmental prosecutor Anton German, quoted by the Russian news agency Itar-Tass on Thursday.

While the BBC refuses to speculate on the source of the snow, the Guardian doesn’t have those kinds of qualms.

Russian scientists trying to solve the mystery faced a tricky problem. The region is home to so many polluting industries it was hard to identify which one might have been responsible. Could it have been the nuclear plant in nearby Mayak? Or the metallurgy and chemicals factory in Ust-Kamenogorsk? The region is next to north Kazakhstan, a vast area of steppe used by the Soviet Union to conduct its nuclear tests. Or might the rogue snow have been caused by fuel from the space rockets launched in Kazakhstan?

Yesterday environmental campaigners said that Russia had suffered decades of pollution – nuclear, industrial, and radioactive.

I have to admit yellow snow is pretty unusual,” said Vladimir Sliviak, the chairman of the Russian environmental group Ecodefence. “I can think of only two other cases in the last decade.

What is with the repeated hammering on a nuclear source for the contamination? Chemical contamination is bad enough, Am I alone in thinking Agent Orange? Wouldn’t that do for scare mongering?

Especially the sentence pointing to the nuclear, industrial and radioactive contamination. Being slow and an obvious lover of all things anti-environmental, I have to ask: what, exactly, is the difference between nuclear and radioactive contamination? Is that contamination with chemicals containing nuclei perhaps? Dust kicked up by a nuclear test 30 years ago only now settling back to the same spot? Inquiring minds want to know. *sigh*

Don’t take me wrong. This is a major, abet local, problem. I suspect things like this are also happening in China but we don’t find out about it very often (better censors). Unfortunately, this won’t have a long half-life in the minds of western observers and Russian investigative reporters will probably be – discouraged – from doing a follow-up.

I’ll be rechecking this story in a couple of week and let you know what I find.

I will make a predition though. I doubt I’ll find something about rogue nuclei planning a world takeover.

(Hat Tip: Michael Stickings/The Reaction)

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