Russian authorities have ordered an investigation into a possible pipeline break after a river in the nickel-producing Arctic city of Norilsk turned bright red.
Social media users began sharing photos of the unnaturally red Daldykan river on Tuesday, with some writing that it had also changed colour in June.
A few users suggested iron ore in the ground had changed the river’s colour, but others said industrial waste was a more likely reason. The river runs near to the Nadezhda metallurgical factory run by Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest producer of nickel and palladium.
Russia’s natural resources and environment ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that it was investigating complaints of unknown chemical pollution, possibly caused by a “break in a Norilsk Nickel slurry pipe”.
Norilsk Nickel denied an industrial spill into the Daldykan and said the “colour of the river today doesn’t differ from its usual condition”, state news agency RIA Novosti reported. But the company said it was temporarily reducing manufacturing work while it monitored the situation. The Norilsk mayor’s office said the city’s water supply came from other sources.
According to Denis Koshevoi, a PhD candidate at the Vernadsky Institute for Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry, who is researching pollution in the area, Norilsk Nickel pumps chemical solutions from Nadezhda to a nearby tailings dam via pipes. It also pumps metal concentrates from ore mills to Nadezhda, he said.
“Periodically there are accidents when these pipes break and the solutions spill and get into the Daldykan – that’s why it changes colour,” Koshevoi told the Guardian.
“A leak into the river from the Nadezhda factory,” Norilsk resident Yekaterina Basalyga wrote under two pictures of the river on her Instagram account. “You get scared when you see this. And people are still gathering mushrooms and berries.”
Another commenter quoted the Bible passage in which the Lord tells Moses and Aaron to “strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood”.
Norilsk developed as a gulag camp in 1935 and is known for its harsh winters, two-month polar night and high level of industrial pollution.