The workers from Kazakhstan’s Hydrometeorological Center (Kazhydromet) are looking for mercury in the waters of the Nura River near Temirtau, a city in the Northeastern Kazakhstan. This is a task they perform every ten days. “I’ve been monitoring here since 2004, and the level of contamination is three times less than it was,” says Larissa Gimadeyeva, who works for Kazhydromet.
Larissa Gimadeyeva and her colleagues are working just below the Intumak dam. The dam was built almost on the site of a carbide factory that used mercury to make rubber. The factory’s wastewater treatment plant wasn’t designed to filter mercury and, as a result, more than 1500 tons of the toxin - over about fifty years - ran into the river, potentially polluting villages, farmland and UNESCO wetlands far downstream.
Now, with support from the World Bank, that’s all been cleaned up. “The major idea here is that only clean water goes down the river to local villages,” explains Magauya Kulzhanov, who is managing the Nura River Clean-Up Project. “The government’s plan is to increase the irrigated lands downstream up to 20,000 hectares from 3,500 hectares now.”