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The University of Southampton

Research project: Development of options for damage limitation and environmental restoration of mercury-contaminated areas in north-central Kazakhstan

Currently Active:

A project funded by the EU INCO Programme

Accidental release of mercury from the acetaldehyde plant AO Karbide in the Karaganda region of central Kazakhstan has resulted in serious contamination of the surrounding region. Mercury is highly toxic at very low concentrations, due to its ability to accumulate in the food chain. This has immediate implications for the health of the people of the region, including those of the new capital Astana if the Nura is to be used as a water supply for the city. In the long term the pollution also poses a threat to the unique ecology of the lakes of the Kurgaldzhino nature reserve.

Effect of spring floods

During spring floods, sediments are transported down the River Nura and dispersed over the floodplain. Water is also abstracted along the river to irrigate thousands of hectares of land. As a result, raised levels of mercury are found in the soil far downstream. Mercury is also found in large deposits of silt in old riverbeds and oxbow lakes on the floodplain, which represent a major source of future contamination.

Research goals and achievements
  1. The objectives of the research were:
    to study the distribution of mercury and the mechanisms by which it is transported;
  2. to develop a model capable of predicting the spread of pollution and simulating the effect of different interventions; and
  3. to identify a set of economically feasible technical options and management strategies for damage limitation and for remediation of the polluted area.
  • School of Civil Engineering & the Environment, University of Southampton, UK (Soton)
  • BG Chair of Environmental Technology, AIPET, Kazakhstan
  • Institute of New Chemical Technologies and Materials, KazGU, Kazakhstan
  • Institute of Hydrogeology and Hydrophysics, Kazakhstan
  • Institute of Microbiology and Virology, Kazakhstan
  • AO Geotex, Kazakhstan
  • Institute of Mineralogy, Geochemistry and Crystal Chemistry of Rare Elements, Russia
  • Dipartmento Ingegneria Civile, University of Firenze, Italy
Distribution of ash and mercury on the river banks
Distribution of ash and mercury
Average concentration of mercury in ash
Average concentration of mercury

Related research groups

Water and Environmental Engineering Group
Layers of mercury-contaminated power station ash on the banks of the River Nura
Layers of mercury-contaminated ash
Sampling from the bed of the River Nura
Sampling from the bed of the River
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