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Friday's papers: Toxic Russian waste, Kela interpreting downhill, Parliament overhaul proposal

This week's last paper review looks at articles on a hazardous waste site in St. Petersburg posing a threat to Finnish waters, dire shortfalls in language interpreting services and a report that would have Parliament revamp its whole working culture.

Krasnyj Borin altaita joulukuussa 2017
Bubbling under: snow covers the hazardous vats of chemical waste at the Krasnyi Bor landfill. Image: Vivi Avikainen / NEFCO

The Gulf of Finland faces many ecological problems, and this Friday Helsingin Sanomat runs a feature on a neighbouring threat to rival summertime algae blooms. The shuttered Krasnyi Bor dump site near St. Petersburg is bubbling under with an environmental time bomb, according to researchers for the Fortum energy concern.

The 73-hectare landfill houses a staggering two million tonnes of chemical waste, much of which is stored in uncovered pools and protected by simple levees. Not only that, but no authority or organisation is aware of the exact contents of the toxic vats, HS writes.

Both Russian and Finnish teams are now conducting investigations into Krasnyi Bor in an effort to make the area – dubbed the "chemical Chernobyl" for the severity of its disrepair – safe and useable.

"The Russians are gathering samples from the same locations as we are, so we can compare results later for effective results," says Teppo Tuomanen from Fortum's waste and recycling unit. "The cooperation has gone well."

This has not always been the case when it comes to Russo-Finnish collaboration, and it still isn't all roses; the Environment Ministry's Hannele Pokka says in HS that a main concern is that the funds are in the control of the city of St. Petersburg, not of the Russian government.

Progress is on the horizon, however, and researchers say that the protective dykes have already been strengthened.

"The water in the pools needs to be cleaned so it could be discharged, but we need to know what to clean it of first," says Timo Seppälä from the Finnish Environment Institute.

Language services in decline

Closer still to home, regional daily Keskisuomalainen takes issue with the quality and availability of the specialist language interpreting services offered by national pension Kela. Several organisations representing disabled customers have vocally criticised the state of the service following a recent bidding round.

Interpreters may now only offer two types of language service at most, and interpreting situations can only be extended by a special plea, KSML writes. Especially deaf-blind customers have been left in the lurch, says Marika Rönnberg from the Finnish Association of the Deaf.

"People in need of these services approach me about twice a day, when before I was contacted maybe once a week," she says. "Kela has not properly informed its customers about these changes."

Kela says it will consider making the lengthening of interpreting appointments more flexible, KSML reports.

People with hearing or speech impediments and the deaf-blind are legally allowed to use interpreting services free of charge for work, studying, transactions, social involvement, hobbies and recreation for a set number of hours a year.

Report: Parliamentary work needs fix-up

Finnish Parliament has lost its standing as the primary forum of domestic political discourse, according to a report from the Finnish Innovation Fund (Sitra).

Tabloid Ilta-Sanomat covers the report's indictment on the current working environment that is the centre of Finnish lawmaking.

"The climate for discussion in Parliament comprises little more than a series of declaratory monologues devoid of active listening and true discussion. Parliamentary talks are riddled with a lack of historical aptitude and contemporary vision," blasts the report, compiled by Sitra advisors Liisa Hyssälä and Jouni Backman.

IS writes that their account involved interviews with more than a hundred decision-makers in governmental and municipal positions in Parliament, the Council of State, political parties, interest groups and businesses.

The paper denounces the current state of Parliament as "tired and colourless".

"The issues and decisions just avalanche onto the shoulders of MPs. The gatekeepers of democracy are burned out," a passage of the report says. "We are wasting resources on outdated systems that leave out the main voices, those of the people."

One measure quoted by IS is that MPs could arrange open talks on parliamentary issues in libraries – places that ought to be used more effectively as public forums, according to Sitra.

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