LONDON – Senior IOC members have urged the Olympic body and Russian authorities to investigate the dumping of construction waste that has raised concerns of possible contamination of the water supply in the Winter Games host city of Sochi.
The Associated Press revealed Tuesday that Russia’s state-owned rail monopoly is dumping tons of waste into an illegal landfill in Akhshtyr, just north of Sochi, in violation of organizers’ “Zero Waste” pledge for the Olympics. On a visit last week to the site, AP reporters saw trucks dump concrete slabs into a gigantic Russian Railways-operated pit filled with spray cans, tires and foam sheets.
“If this is true, I am astonished,” Gerhard Heiberg, a senior Norwegian IOC member and marketing commission chairman, told the AP on Thursday. “This would be a breach of confidence between the Russian authorities and the IOC.”
“I really hope we will be able to solve this and work together with the Russian authorities to hopefully do something about it, so they can keep their promise of zero-waste program,” Heiberg, who organized the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, said in a telephone interview.
“Somebody from the IOC should go and see this for him or herself and evaluate the situation,” Heiberg said.
Canadian IOC member Dick Pound called for urgent action to determine the safety of the water supply.
“If you’re the IOC, you say, ‘Look, we’ve got this report. We’re not in a position from Lausanne to assess it, but if it’s true, this really does compromise your own citizenry and it compromises the games. Could you please give us a quick and reliable report on what the hell is going on?”
As a centerpiece of its Olympic bid, Russia promised the cleanest games ever, saying it would refrain from dumping construction waste and rely on reusable materials.
In a letter obtained by the AP, the Environmental Protection Agency in the area where Sochi is located told the Black Sea resort’s environment council in late August that it had inspected the Akhshtyr landfill and found “unauthorized dumping of construction waste as well as soil from excavation works.”
The village lies in an area where dumping construction waste and soil is forbidden under the Russian Water Code. Moisture from the landfill seeps into underground springs that feed the nearby Mzymta River, which provides up to half the water supply in Sochi.
“It is important for the IOC that organizing committees deliver the games in a sustainable way and with respect for the environment,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said in an emailed statement to the AP on Thursday. “Sochi 2014’s zero waste objective is linked to its operational waste at games-time and they have given us every assurance of their commitment to that objective.”
Regarding the Ahshtyr site, Adams said, “We understand that this was an illegal dump, which was handling construction waste and that the organizations responsible have been fined.”
He said it would be up to the “relevant local authorities” to resolve the issue.
The report on the dumping came during a week in which Sochi marked the 100-day countdown to the Feb. 7-23 games. It also comes as the International Olympic Committee and Russian organizers hold the World Conference on Sport and the Environment in Sochi, a meeting intended to highlight positive steps in making the games more ecologically friendly. New IOC President Thomas Bach is among those attending the conference.
Bach spoke at the three-day environment conference in Sochi, urging Olympic bodies to work together on green projects.
“Sport has long been well aware of this responsibility, and is moving forward with many like-minded partners by setting a good example,” he said, according to an IOC release. “The Olympic Movement has already shown the international community how sport can make a tangible contribution to reducing environmental impacts. We are helping in the search for sustainable solutions by providing highly practical guidelines and strategies, for implementation globally, but also locally.”