In June, blue-green algae treacherously hit the resort business in Odesa ‒ the Black Sea turned green because of its intensive growth. Therefore, a certain number of potential travellers, who have not had time to get there, have chosen another holiday destination. Although the situation on the coast restored to normal, not everyone will reach the sea. And cyanobacteria (this is the official name of these algae) are capturing more and more new reservoirs. There is a completely natural question in such a heatwave: where can Ukrainians swim so that it is safe for health? And how do you know if a river or a lake is safe? First of all, you should at least try to name the main causes of pollution of the Black and Azov seas, as well as rivers and lakes.
One of the causes of pollution is the lack of environmental control
According to the current head of the Ministry of Environment, Ostap Semerak, the green sea in Odesa is a “clear and predictable consequence of not only abnormal heatwave but also deregulation of business”. This is a ban on environmental inspections in seaports. The minister is convinced that such checks are extremely necessary since ships cannot enter the ports without complying with environmental standards. “Now it is the harvest time, and grain traders and shipping got activated,” Ostap Semerak notes. “It’s not a myth or fiction that ships carrying grain are often technologically outdated, and the ballast water from these ships is often drained near the coast.”
According to the Ministry of Environment, only in seven months of 2018, 3,000 ships entered the Ukrainian ports, of which only 200 were checked by environmental inspectors. In 37 cases, there was evidence of pollution of inland waters. According to the Head of the Marine Environment Protection Sector of the Ministry of Environment, Oleksandr Bon, with the cancellation of environmental monitoring in ports, the statistics of pollution of port areas and the number of non-admission of environmental inspectors for sampling in cases, stipulated by law, is growing exponentially. This fact, he notes, testifies only to the fact that “business in most cases absolutely doesn’t care about the qualitative changes in the marine ecosystems that occur as a result of their activities.”
Why does the algae bloom?
At the same time, the State Agency for Water Resources believes that the main source of pollution is sewage, “which is produced by residents of settlements”. As the chairman of the State Water Agency, Iryna Ovcharenko explains, the problem is that the sewage treatment plants through which the drains pass have “insufficient cleaning systems”, which leads to the pollution of surface waters with various pollutants, in particular phosphates. According to the State Water Agency, last year most of the polluted effluents got to the surface waters of the Dnipro basin (67%), the rivers of the Azov region (13%) and the Don (11%).
However, holidaymakers are now more worried about the very blooming of blue-green algae, which produce allergenic toxin. Why these algae have given such rapid growth? Experts say: abnormal heat is to blame, coupled with heavy rain. “The State Ecological Inspectorate performs sampling and instrumental and laboratory measurements of indicators of the composition and properties of water, that is, the presence of pollutants,” Oleksandr Poznyakov, the head of the environmental supervision (control) department in Cherkasy region, explained. “From the point of view of ecology, we can say the following: the average annual ambient temperature is constantly increasing, summer is becoming hotter and longer, the temperature of surface waters ranges from 28 to 31ºС, and this contributes to the intensive development of blue-green algae. At the same time, the concentration of oxygen, dissolved in water, decreases, which leads to such a negative phenomenon as the overrun of living aquatic organisms.”
That is, the water bodies become dangerous for swimming under such circumstances, not only because of the growth of cyanobacteria and the release of toxin, which can cause allergies but also because fish and other inhabitants die. “At the end of June of this year, fish died in the Kanivsky and Kremenchuk reservoirs,” Oleksandr Poznyakov adds. “Besides, the higher the temperature of the water, the worse oxygen is retained in it. At the same time, at high temperatures, there is large oxygen consumption by aquatic biological resources and an ecosystem gets unbalanced. As a result, with a significant increase in algal biomass, biological pollution begins to manifest itself, which greatly deteriorates the quality of water, changes its color range (the colour of water can vary from blue-green to red-brown, depending on the colour and number of organisms that cause “bloom”), pH, viscosity, reduced transparency. Even the spectral composition of solar radiation, penetrating into the water through the dispersal and absorption of light rays by algae, changes. Water becomes not only of unusual colour but also has an unpleasant smell.”
Among the causes of water pollution, low oxygen content and, as a result, the pestilence of water inhabitants, nature lovers mention the influence of hydroelectric power plants. For example, they connect last year’s pestilence of fish on the Ros River with the activities of the Steblivska and Korsunska hydropower plants, suggesting… to suspend their work for the summer season.
Another serious cause of water pollution, according to the ecologist Oleh Lystopad, is phosphate-containing detergents, which get into the water with drains. “It has been proven,” ecologist explained, “that the phosphates from synthetic detergents, which get into the water from farmland, “provoke” algae bloom, rather than the phosphate fertilizers.” By the way, Ukraine has serious international obligations to reduce phosphate discharges into natural reservoirs. This is the EU Phosphate Regulation, which entered into force in 2012. However, the Ukrainian Technical Regulations of detergents in terms of the restriction on the content of phosphates and other phosphorus compounds in detergents, which, although complying with the EU Regulations, don’t make it better. “Government decree prohibiting such phosphate-containing detergents can solve the issue, but specialists need to develop it and, more importantly, the government should react with understanding and accept it,” the expert believes.
According to environmentalists, the critical state of Ukrainian water bodies is the result of the complex effect of a number of factors over a long time. First of all, we are talking about human activity, a fundamental change in the hydrological regime and constant chemical pollution. Among the culprits ‒ the industrial enterprises, poorly cleaned or almost not treated household wastewater, and the activities of hydroelectric power plants, and many other reasons, among which our use of phosphate-containing laundry detergent as well.
By the way, when it comes to pollution of water bodies and the death of living organisms in them, then the scientists really get it hot from the environmentalists, because the scientists at one time added a water chestnut to the Red Book of Ukraine, and it grows so that now there is no salvation from it. Andrii Nelipa, a public figure and expert on environmental issues, generally regards a water chestnut to be included in the Red Book of Ukraine as a terrible mistake of scientists.
According to Yaroslav Belov, the head of the State Fishery Agency of Ukraine, “it is this plant that overgrows in the Kyiv and Kaniv reservoirs, creating unfavourable living conditions for aquatic biological resources at all stages of development, since in the places where this pest grows, photosynthesis is impossible, nothing grows and nothing lives there”. Therefore, the State Fishery Agency of Ukraine initiates the removal of water chestnuts from the Red Book species.
Andrii Nelipa, who is concerned about the fate of the Kyiv reservoirs, also notes that not only the Dnipro but also the lakes usually suffer from overgrowing and algal blooming. “There is no proper care about them,” he explained. “In general, in Kyiv, there is no comprehensive program of improvement and maintenance of urban reservoirs, which are so necessary for the people of Kyiv. We have been talking about this to the city authorities since 2008, but cleaning the shores and to populating the reservoirs with plant-eating fish, at least for their biological melioration, has to be done by crowdfunding”…
So where can you swim?
And now about the most interesting thing in during this heatwave ‒ where you can swim, and where you shouldn’t do it so as not to get extra problems? Although, there are many fair claims to local authorities in various environmental public organizations, such as those expressed by environmentalists in the Kyiv City State Administration. But in Kyiv, they at least report that water and beaches pose danger to holidaymakers, and where it is safe to swim. For example, this year 14 beaches are safe in the capital, 5 of which are in Hydropark. Their list and even a map, where all these water objects are marked, can be found on the KSCA website. The rest of the beaches are advised only to sunbathe on, not swimming.
In general, the authorities in all localities should deal with places of recreation for people near the water. Back in 2011, the Ministry of Health issued Order No. 145, which adopted the “State sanitary norms and rules for maintaining the territory of populated areas”, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in 2017, by its Order No. 301, adopted the “Rules for the protection of life on water in Ukraine’s facilities”. It is these papers that force local authorities to engage in laboratory monitoring of the quality of water for swimming, and putting the beaches in order and organizing rescue teams. “It is precisely local authorities that should provide people with a safe vacation at the water,” Oleksandr Poznyakov noted. “The information about the state of reservoirs should also appear on the official websites of local authorities. In those localities, where they support it, they declare a certain area near the water which is safe for swimming. But before these, beaches and the bottom of the reservoir must be inspected by special services. There are units of the Ministry of Emergencies, for instance. The bodies of the State Committee for Proprietary Consumer Service take samples of water and give their conclusion on the absence of substances that could harm the health.”
But if in large cities the authorities are still concerned with beaches, where you can relax, and ponds, where you can swim in without risks for your health, what about those, who live in small towns, where there are small rivers or some kind of lake? To swim or not to swim? And how should people determine in what reservoirs it is safe to do? It does not necessarily cyanobacteria, the growth of which is accompanied by a change in the colour of water, which could be visible to the naked eye, make the water dangerous for swimming. For example, the Stugna River, which flows through the Vasylkiv regional centre of the Kyiv region, intermittently suffers from various emissions from industrial enterprises.
Therefore, it is important to know that the supervision of compliance with all norms and rules is been carried out by the State Service for Emergency Situations and the State Protection Service, but a number of regional state laboratories, which are subordinated to the Ministry of Health, monitor the quality of water for swimming. If necessary, we should see the results of these studies on the official website of the Ministry of Health Public Health Center. The main thing ‒ don’t be lazy to do it.
Text by Larysa Vyshynska