Estonia: Soviet Era and Current Environmental Issues

Estonia has been the site of some of the most severe environmental pollution ever uncovered during the Soviet reign. After World War II (WW2 or WWII), Russia occupied a number of Eastern European countries, including Estonia. When the Soviet era came to an end in the early 90s, the Soviet army began to withdraw from the occupied satellite nations. During their withdrawal, the Soviets proceeded to dump enormous amounts of jet fuel, toxic chemicals and outdated weapons and explosives into the surrounding land. With utter disregard for the environmental consequences, the Soviets returned to Russia without a second thought towards their unmentionable acts.

With the complete degradation of Estonian top soil and inland and coastal waterways, Estonians are still facing the negative ecological impacts of the widespread pollution. The site of the worst damage was said to be the Tapa air base, where an estimated six square kilometers of land were contaminated by a layer of jet fuel that proceeded to breach eleven square kilometers of underground waterways. The surrounding areas' drinking water was subsequently deemed undrinkable and health issues commenced to spread rampantly through the regions most effected by the contamination.

This was not the only environmental concern that resulted from the Soviet's neglect. From the 1960s up to the present, Estonia has been the largest oil shale consumer and producer in the world. The use of oil shale has been associated with the production of sulfur dioxide, which is an extremely dangerous environmental hazard. Additionally, Estonia has gone on record as being the world leader in sulfur dioxide production per capita. Two of the largest oil shale plants in the world can account for nearly 75 percent of Estonia's air pollution. Approximately 4.5 million tons of ash are spewed into the air by these two power plants alone.

Another environmental concern that stems from the Soviet era is the surprising amount of nuclear waste that was improperly disposed of into a reservoir near the coast of the Gulf of Finland. Approximately 1200 tons of uranium and 750 tons of thorium were dumped at this location. Due to the Soviet's negligence, area residents suffered a number of health related issues. The cost afforded by the disaster reached upwards to 3.5 billion, and it continues to detrimentally effect Estonia to this day.

Finally, the Baltic Sea has seen much better days since the advent of global oil trade. Because Estonia is the world's largest oil shale producer, the baltic sea is the primary shipping route for Estonia's oil tankers. Since 1980, on average, there has been at least one major shipping accident each year in the Baltic Sea. Although not all of them can be attributed to Estonia, the dead zone on the Baltic's sea floor that ensued has had a huge environmental impact on Estonia. The marine life that once thrived and fed many of the native Estonian's now is virtually nonexistent.

With a history plagued with authoritative reigns and environmental apathy, it is hard not to feel compassion for the Estonian people. Hopefully, as human beings become more aware of their impact on their surroundings, we can work to rectify our many failings.

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