June 27, 2020 / 1:46 PM / 7 days ago

Russian lawmaker says water, soil samples from fuel spill held up at airport

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Water and soil samples that were taken near the site of a giant fuel spill in the Russia’s Arctic and prepared for tests at an independent lab have been held up at the Norilsk airport, a lawmaker and Greenpeace said on Saturday.

A vast fuel tank lost pressure in the end of May and released more than 20,000 tonnes of diesel into rivers and subsoil near Norilsk, an incident that Greenpeace has compared to the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska.

The city of Norilsk is home to mining giant Nornickel. The company and emergency specialists are collecting contaminated soil and fuel from local rivers into containers.

Sergei Mitrokhin, a lawmaker at Moscow legislature, said he was trying to fly out of Norilsk on Saturday with samples in his baggage, when the airport security held him up on suspicion he was trying to carry combustible materials.

“I had to leave the baggage behind. First, they had referred to the order of the security service of Nornickel, which had to clear transportation of all the samples,” he told Reuters.

“Then they said the police had received an anonymous call that the baggage could contain some combustible materials.”

Nornickel, in emailed comments, cited Sergei Erastov, deputy head of security at the Norilsk airport as saying that the passengers carried samples of water and soil without necessary documents.

He said they were given the option of leaving the samples at a temporary baggage storage or doing the right paperwork.

A police serviceman on duty at the airport, Sergei Kuzmin, told Reuters that the security service had not allowed the samples to be taken on board due to lack of clearance documents.

Mitrokhin was in Norilsk at the request of reporters from Novaya Gazeta newspaper, who have been covering the spill for the past two weeks. They shared details of the fallout from the spill and handed over the samples, collected by the activists from Greenpeace.

Greenpeace said the samples, collected from the river Pyasina, “were confiscated” at the Norilsk airport.

Greenpeace says numerous attempts to get independent data on oil pollution from the area have been blocked.

The company has said the bulk of the spilled fuel has been cleaned up.

Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Frances Kerry

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