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Vladimir Riazanov and the Emergence Internationally of a Soviet Science of Air Pollution

Sat, April 13, 8:30 to 10:00am, Hyatt Regency Columbus, Union D


Despite its reputation as a regulatory disaster, the Soviet Union was advanced in its scientific study of pollution. The USSR took pride in this, for example, claiming that until 1948 80% of scientific publications on air pollution in the world were Soviet. Vladimir Aleksandrovich Riazanov was the leading Soviet authority in the area, publishing his first monograph in 1934 on the topic of defining dust in its various manifestations. One of the structuring concepts of communal hygiene, or Soviet environmental health, was that of predel’no dopustimye konsentratsii (PDK) or maximum allowable concentrations of toxins. Non-Soviet scientists refer to these as thresholds, and their determination is an international phenomenon, but Riazanov led the Soviet effort to apply them to air quality.

This paper will focus on the international presence of Riazanov’s science. Western specialists took early notice of the emerging Soviet field of environmental health. Between 1952 and 1964, the Department of Commerce in Washington translated and published no fewer than seven volumes of Riazanov’s research. With the easing of the Cold War after the death of Stalin, Soviet scientists started to participate directly in international conferences with their Western counterparts. Riazanov himself led the Soviet delegation at a series of conferences on air pollution at the World Health Organization in the early 1960s.

Although Riazanov died in 1968, his efforts had an effect outside the Soviet Union, influencing, for example, the thinking on the control of air quality in California. Using archival materials from Moscow and Perm’, Russia, as well as conference proceedings where available, this paper will examine the interactions and influences between Soviet and Western specialists on air pollution from the 1940s to the 1970s. Riazanov’s story is a case study in the international circulation of knowledge during the Cold War, scientific détente and, more subtly, continuing superpower rivalry.