Russia wildfires: Thick, toxic smog chokes Moscow residents
Russia wildfires have now pushed carbon monoxide levels in Moscow to 6.5 times the allowable level and the concentration of other unspecified toxins to 'up to 9 times' acceptable limits, according to Russia's health ministry.
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In Moscow, it's all about the smog
For most Muscovites the central issue of the moment is the cloud of smog that swirls around their bedroom windows, penetrates into their homes, and even seeps into the deepest metro stations.Skip to next paragraph
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"Who knows what the long-term health effects of breathing this stuff are?" says Ms. Kharitonova, who leaves her flat only to buy groceries, and wears a surgical face mask when she does.
She keeps all windows closed, and the interior of her apartment is festooned with wet blankets and towels – on the advice of Russia's health ministry – and
she burns candles that someone told her help to destroy toxins in the air.
Is that the sun or the moon?
On Saturday, the worst day yet, Kharitonova says the smoke was so heavy that she could barely see across the street from her kitchen window. Downtown Moscow was shrouded in a swirling cream-colored haze that virtually blotted out landmarks like the Kremlin and the massive Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
Even the sun, burning in a cloudless sky, might have been mistaken at times for a full moon.
Several embassies, including those of Poland, Canada, and Austria, have evacuated nonessential personnel, and almost every major government has issued travel advisories warning citizens this may not be a good time to visit Russia.
According to the Health Ministry, Saturday's pollution was "the worst of 2010," with carbon monoxide levels at 6.5 times the maximum allowable level and the concentration of other unspecified toxins at "up to 9 times" acceptable limits.
But Russian authorities have been less forthcoming on the public health impact of the crisis, leaving journalists to resort to mostly anecdotal reports.
The independent Interfax agency quoted an anonymous official source as saying that Moscow's mortality rate for July rose by 29.7 percent as a consequence of the "catastrophic heat and smog."
The rumor mill is ablaze with talk of carcinogens from burning toxic waste dumps and radioactive smoke from fires raging near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear station, which suffered a nuclear meltdown in 1986.
Russian authorities say they have prevented a potential disaster in the nuclear weapons-building center of Sarov, about 220 miles east of Moscow, where emergency workers have dug a canal to block a forest fire that was advancing upon a military storage facility.
Forecasts suggest that the heat and smoke are likely to persist at least until the middle of the coming week. How long cleanup and recovery will take is anyone's guess.