Using interdisciplinary field research in the Usa Basin, northeast European Russia, we compared local inhabitants' perception of environmental problems with chemical and remote-sensing signatures of environmental pollution and their local impacts. Extensive coal mining since the 1930s around Inta and Vorkuta has left a legacy of pollution, detected by measuring snowpack, topsoil, and lichen chemistry, together with remote-sensing techniques and analysis of lake water and sediments. Vorkuta and its environs suffered the worst impacts, with significant metal loading and alkalization in lakes and topsoils, elevated metals and cations in terricolous (reindeer) lichens, and changes in vegetation communities. Although the coal industry has declined recently, the area boasts a booming oil and gas industry, based around Usinsk. Local perceptions and concerns of environmental pollution and protection were higher in Usinsk, as a result of increased awareness after a major oil spill in 1994, compared with Vorkuta's inhabitants, who perceived air pollution as the primary environmental threat. Our studies indicate that the principal sources of atmospheric emissions and local deposition within 25 to 40 km of Vorkuta were coal combustion from power and heating plants, coal mines, and a cement factory. Local people evaluated air pollution from direct observations and personal experiences, such as discoloration of snow and respiratory problems, whereas scientific knowledge played a minor role in shaping these perceptions.
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Vol. 35 • No. 5