Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Russia

Organisation: RUGRAD.EU

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 29/08/2019

Credit: Roman Romanovskii, Mariya Pustovaya

Project description:

This is an environmental anti-corruption investigation into how recently built sewage treatment plants in the Kaliningrad region (Russia) do not clean sewage and pollute the Baltic sea. We checked the operation of all treatment facilities in the Kaliningrad region – we made laboratory analyses of the effluents that they release into reservoirs (rivers, bays and the Baltic sea), according to 8 main indicators. Some treatment plants violate environmental regulations,  while others were poorly constructed – they do not sufficiently clean the effluents. This can be regarded as corruption in construction


Impact reached:

We have been conducting an investigation for about 3 years, all this time we have been encouraging the authorities to respond to environmental pollution. We monitored how the authorities respond to environmental violations – many treatment facilities were upgraded and the quality of treatment was improved. After our investigation, the Prosecutor’s office issued demands to improve the work of treatment facilities, some were closed for revision. We have also demonstrated that the existing environmental control over the operation of treatment facilities is not always effective – public control is required.

Every resident of the Kaliningrad region pays for the treatment of sewage sewage treatment plants. We have shown that in some cities people are being unreasonably charged money because treatment facilities are not working.

Techniques/technologies used:

In the investigation, we used laboratory examinations and data processing. We evaluated the quality of cleaning on 8 indicators and for three years tracked how these indicators change – for better or worse.

We also had to carry out a lot of field work, we independently searched for points where treatment facilities dump waste into reservoirs. We were afraid for the safety of our investigation and did it in secret – we could not ask the authorities for coordinates and searched for them on our own, so as not to attract attention. Skills of urban orientation, working with maps and satellite images, working with sources, and the local population were useful here. These places were often in hard-to-reach places, we had to go through impenetrable forests, drown in swamps – we needed Hiking skills.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The most difficult task was to find places where sewage treatment plants discharge waste water. Confirm that these are the places we are looking for. To get to them unnoticed by the personnel of treatment facilities and security. At the same time, keep your visit and the subject of the investigation a secret. The jury should know that we have been monitoring the operation of treatment facilities for three years, crawling into hard-to-reach places, drowning in swamps, hiding from security to take tests.

What can others learn from this project?

How to make an investigation with the help of examinations and laboratory tests that can confirm the quality of certain processes

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