MOSCOW, Aug. 13 (UPI) — As heat-driven fires continue to sweep across Russia, the country has begun to tally the health and environmental costs of the disaster, officials say.
A multitude of public health and environmental consequences face the country, including the risk of radioactive particles being released by fires in the contaminated zone near the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, an article in the journal Nature said Thursday.
More than 1,100 square miles of of forest, vegetation and peat land have burned since the fires began in June. Russia’s ministry of health and social development says the death toll from the fires has risen to 53, with 806 people needing medical attention.
As the fires have burned closer to urban areas, they destroyed gardens and vegetable patches, Johann Goldammer, director of the Global Fire Monitoring Center, said.
“Many poor people will lose their harvest, which they need to survive the winter,” he says.
Long-term health effects are another concern, he said, as carbon monoxide pollution has risen to 10 times above the maximum permitted levels.
The fires also reached the Bryansk region east of Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear power plant accident, raising fears that radioactive particles could be released into the atmosphere.
One British researcher discounts that possibility.
Most of the radioactive particles are in the soil rather than in the flammable leaf litter and trees, Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth says.
Previous fires in the Chernobyl exclusion zone have resulted in an increase in radiation of less than 1 percent, he says.
“Only a small amount of radiation gets re-suspended, so I’m not concerned about damage from inhalation,” Smith says.
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