officially reopened in January 2010. IUCN has received reports that wastewater from the mill is currently being discharged into Lake Baikal.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall that since the property’s inscription in 1996, the Committee has expressed concerns about the mill’s discharge of toxic wastewaters into Lake Baikal and highlighted the importance of eliminating this issue by putting in place a closed- loop water treatment system. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall that as early as 1997 the State Party began developing a strategy to convert the BPPM to a closed-loop water system and thereby minimise pollution. However, despite several attempts, the full conversion of the mill has proven elusive for a variety of reasons, including lack of funding. In its 2008 report, the State Party had noted that a close-loop water system was to be operational in September 2008. However, the mill reopened in January 2010 without this system in place, and therefore all t wastewaters are discharged directly into the lake. In addition, it is unclear which wastewater treatment systems are actually in place to minimize levels of pollution.
The Russian Academy of Sciences has been undertaking research on Lake Baikal for over 40 years and documented the impacts of the mill. The mill’s operations, including bleaching of pulp with chlorine, creates several toxic by-products such as dioxins and chlorinated furans. There are long-standing concerns that these toxic by-products are adversely affecting the ecological balance between the native Baikal plankton and other algae, and therefore disrupting the Lake Baikal ecosystem. The high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) and dioxins detected in the endemic Baikal seal population (the only freshwater seal in the world) are attributed to the discharge of the mill’s toxic waters into the lake and atmospheric pollution due to burning of toxic waste. A mass death of Baikal seals in 1987 was attributed to the BPPM’s accidental discharge of a large quantity of untreated water. Moreover, as indicated in the report “On the state of Lake Baikal and measures for its protection, 2007”, prior to its closure in 2008 the mill caused 51% of all atmospheric emissions, discharged 86% of all wastewaters entering the lake, and created 42% of all solid waste.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the reopening of the mill without a close- water system and the discharge of waste water into Lake Baikal could affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, and urge the State Party to rescind Decree No. 1 “On the introduction of amendments to the list of activities prohibited in the Central Ecological Zone of the Baikal Natural Area”. Moreover, they strongly recommend that the State Party evaluate various mitigation scenarios for the BPPM, including a cost-effective close-loop water system or total phasing out of the mill if cost-effective mitigation measures are not possible.
Phasing out of the mill would require a long-term strategy associated with the development of alternative livelihoods for the local people as the mill is the main source of employment in the region. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that there is little doubt that Lake Baikal has tremendous potential to develop tourism, ecotourism and other activities based on its natural and cultural values; activities which would contribute to preserving its unique biodiversity.
Other conservation issues of concern – pollution of the Selenga river, unplanned tourism developments, conservation status of the Baikal seal and the likely impacts of climate change on the Lake Baikal ecosystem
In Decision 33 COM 7B.28, the Committee noted with concern that the heavy metals in the Selenga River, which is the main tributary to Lake Baikal and constitutes 50% of its freshwater inputs, exceeded the maximum allowed concentrations. While a joint Buriatia/ Mongolia research project to monitor the pollution load of the Selenga River is ongoing, few concrete pollution minimisation measures have been put in place. The Selenga River is reported to be still heavily polluted, despite improved wastewater treatment in Ulan-Ude. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that comprehensive joint programme between the States Parties of the Russian Federation and Mongolia to address this issue is needed.
State of conservation of World Heritage properties inscribed on the World Heritage List
WHC-10/34.COM/7B.Add, p. 38