Svanvik monitoring station in Pasvik valley in East Finnmark is located approximately 40 km south of Kirkenes and only a few kilometres from the Russian border. The reason NILU does monitoring at Svanvik is the smelting plant in the Russian city of Nikel, just 8 km away. The plant emits large amounts of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and heavy metals, and when the wind is from the east, NILU measures high concentrations of SO2 at Svanvik.
Geologically, the area is rich in metals and minerals (as illustrated by the Sydvaranger mine on the Norwegian side of the border).
East of the Pasvik River, an area of land called Petasmo belonged to Finland from 1920 until World War II, and it was the Finns who first discovered nickel there.
Smelters were established in the 1930s, and when the area became part of the Soviet Union after the war, the smelting plant was put back in commission. In the 1990s the plant was privatised and is now owned by the Kola Mining and Metallurgical Co (Kola MMC), a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel), the world’s largest producer of nickel and palladium.
The ores processed in Nikel are so-called sulphidic ores. This means that they contain sulphur, and when the ore is refined sulphur dioxide (SO2) is emitted, along with heavy metals such as nickel, copper, cobalt, and arsenic.
Emissions from the briquetting plant in Zapoljarny farther east and the smelter in Nikel affect air quality in the areas along the Norwegian–Russian border.
Measurements since 1974
NILU has been taking measurements in the border areas since 1974, making this one of the Institute’s oldest, most long-running monitoring projects. The measurements are funded by Norwegian authorities (the Norwegian Environment Agency and the Ministry of Climate and Environment).
Today, NILU has a monitoring station at Svanvik (8 km west of the smelting plant in Nikel) and a another in Karpdalen in Jarfjord, north of Nikel and Zapoljarny. In addition, NILU has long time-series of SO2 levels at Viksjøfjell and precipitation at Karpbukt. The measurement data from Svanvik and Karpdalen are posted on the website luftkvalitet.info, and the results are published in annual reports.
Emissions of SO2 have decreased in recent years and, according to the smelting company, are now approximately 80 000 tonnes per year. This is five times Norway’s total emissions. In the 1970s and 1980s, emissions were over 400 000 tonnes SO2 per year. The high emissions at the time were due to the processing of ore from Siberia with a high sulphur content.
Now the only ore processed is local, from the mines around Zapoljarny. Over the past few years, the briquetting plant in Zapoljarny and the smelter in Nikel have been modernised, the emissions have gone down, and are expected to be reduced further by 2023.
The last two years (2017 and 2018) saw relatively low concentrations of SO2 at Svanvik. But shortly after the beginning of 2019 there were two episodes with high concentrations, 14 and 25 January.
High air pollution warning
A system to warn local inhabitants about high air pollution has been established. This is a collaboration between NILU, Sør-Varanger municipality and the Norwegian Environment Agency.
On Friday, 25 January 2019, Sør-Varanger municipality issued the first warning about high SO2 concentrations in Pasvikdalen to 204 subscribers. The event attracted a lot of attention both locally and throughout Norway.
Pollution from the nickel plant on the Russian side of the border is also a political topic in bilateral relations between Russia and Norway. The issue was discussed at the meeting of the Norwegian–Russian Environmental Commission in Moscow on 19 February.
The episodes of high SO2 concentrations in winter demonstrate the need for continued measurements of air pollution along the border.
As such, NILU has an important task of monitoring air quality and providing up-to-date information on the environmental to local citizens, administrators, governmental authorities and other stakeholders.