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The terrors lurking in Russia's taps

Water Poured Out of CupTurning on the taps in Russia opens the floodgates for infection, pollution and bugs, despite the Clean Water campaign set up by ruling party United Russia.

A quick survey of the country's water supply suggests that while Moscow and St. Petersburg are among the best for drinking on tap, the overall standards are still shockingly low.

And while horror stories abound, there are few prospects for progress any time soon.

Tabloid tales

"Stopping at a roadside café in a suburb of Voronezh (south west Russia) I went in for a bite to eat and to wash my hands. I turned on the tap...and immediately turned it off again!" wrote Oleg Golovin in Komsomolskaya Pravda. "It's not that the rusty water smelt bad, it stank. Of swamp and sewage all at once, completely unbearable."

Apparently the water wasn't usually so bad, but last summer's fires had made the situation worse and now locals won't even drink boiled tap water.

Golovin's experiences in other Russian towns and regions, including Moscow Region, were not much better. The paper conducted a poll, in which 27 per cent of the 42,679 respondents said that they wouldn't even use the tap water for cooking. 55.7 per cent said that the water quality has deteriorated in recent years.

48 per cent filter their water and 28 per cent buy bottled water, great news for suppliers but bad for domestic budgets.

Drink to your health?

Giardia is a parasite that visitors, especially to St Petersburg and its antique system of pipes, are advised to be especially careful about. Komsomolskaya Pravda also reported finding scientifically unidentifiable red worms in Moscow tap water.

Over 10 million Russians lack access to quality drinking water and almost 30 per cent of pipelines are in need of urgent replacement. According to Russian regulatory bodies between 35 and 60 per cent of total drinking reserves in Russia do not meet sanitary standards, water news website Waterworld reported.

Boiling removes many of the nasties by killing most ­ but not all ­ live bacteria, and some of the chlorine that escapes with the steam. Hard salts in the water also solidify and sink to the bottom.

But it is not a failsafe option. At high temperatures chlorine reacts with various organic substances to form carcinogenic compounds that are easily stored in the body and very hard to expel. Not does it get rid of iron salt, mercury, cadmium, nitrate or fluoride. Around 50 million Russians drink water with high iron levels, Waterworld claims.

United Russia clean up

The falling quality muddies the waters of the ruling party's clean-up campaign. The project was launched in 2006 by Duma head Boris Gryzlov. But confusion about the scale of investment required, and controversy over technology proposed by Viktor Petrik, hampered the plan.

"Our main goal is to provide the Russian population with quality drinking water for a reasonable cost," project initiator and United Russia member Ruslan Kondratov said.

"This will be achieved by starting the installation of a new technology for water filtration at people's homes and apartments throughout the country. Russian businesses understand that their investments in this program will pay off very quickly," he said.

According to Kondratov and his colleagues the country's water supply systems has deteriorated by up to 80 per cent in some regions, while the government has no time or money to upgrade.

Given the grim circumstances it would be more effective and cost efficient to completely strip out the pipes and start afresh, Waterworld reported.

Academic Petrik suggested his own brand of nanotechnology water filters to help the scheme along, only to be accused of "false science" by the Russian Academy of Sciences. Court proceedings between the two were suspended this month, Arbetov.com reported.

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