2014 Winter Olympics

With a final bill expected to surpass $50 billion dollars, the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia are going to be the most expensive of all time by several times. Russian President Vladimir Putin is intent on using the Olympics to advance the country’s standing on a global stage, and that, combined with endemic corruption leading to kickbacks and overcharging, has helped drive the tremendous expense of the games.

Russia and Asbestos Production

Russia is the world’s leading producer of asbestos, mining over a million tons annually. (Brazil, which is hosting the 2014 World Cup as well as the 2016 Olympic Games, is the world’s third-largest producer.) Most of the asbestos produced in Russia finds its way to China, which imports more than 600,000 tons per year.

The Green Standard for the Olympics

On winning the bid to host the Games, Russia established a set of environmental standards for construction of Olympic facilities in Sochi. Known as the Green Standard, it prohibits the use of certain materials. There is, however, some question as to how closely the country is adhering to its own published standards.

Environmental Impact

A Reuters report details the ecological problems that construction of Olympic facilities has caused in Sochi and the surrounding areas. Residents of one nearby village, site of newly established rock quarries, say that their homes are virtually uninhabitable now. A thick layer of dust has settled over the town and a nearby ravine is full of trash carted in from other construction sites and dumped by workers. Wells have dried up, forcing the construction company to deliver fresh water by the barrel. One resident’s house fell away in a landslide; she now lives in a metal shack by the ruins of her home and is trying to bring the company to court.

Other areas have seen widespread flooding after construction crews filled in wetland areas. Toxic runoff from illegal landfills threatens Sochi’s drinking water. Environmental activists who have spoken out against the construction find themselves harassed by the government.

What About Asbestos?

Asbestos is officially banned by Russia’s Green Standard, and there is no evidence that the material is being used in Olympic buildings. (So far, the only tangible connection between asbestos and Olympic proceedings was the use of an asbestos blanket to snuff out an exploded Olympic torch.) There is also a level of irony to the fact that Russia is the largest exporter of a carcinogenic substance it has banned from use in construction.

Nonetheless, the wanton environmental destruction from Olympic construction should set off some alarm bells. So should Russian and Olympic officials’ silence when pressed on the matter prior to construction. Evidence or no, it’s a question that needs to be asked, and one more thing to worry about as the Games approach.