Karabash, at the end of the world - PhMuseum

Karabash, at the end of the world

Pierpaolo Mittica

2013

The Russian city of Karabash, in the Chelyabinsk region, is one of the most polluted places on earth. The city is the site of a copper-smelting plant, built more than a 100 years ago, and its toxic waste has caused enormous pollution and dire health problems for the inhabitants of the region.

Since 1910, when the plant first started working, more than 180 tons of sulphur dioxide and heavy metals are released into the air every year. Forests, rivers and the soil all have an orange tint because of the residues from the processing of copper and iron, whose concentration is 500 times higher than it would normally be. The immense emissions of sulphur dioxide and the highly polluting atmospheric particulate matter are responsible for the higher rates of skin diseases, cancer, strokes and congenital malformations among the population. A survey conducted by the Chelyabinsk Provincial Institute for Public Health and Environment in 1994 found that children from Karabash were considerably smaller than children from the control group, had 3.5 times more birth defects, 2.7 times more skin diseases and suffered from heavy metal poisoning.

In 1970, Karabash was a city of 70 thousand inhabitants, there are currently 16 thousand. Those who have the chance, escape from this hell, but most of the population does not have the possibility to leave, and their average life expectancy is 45 years. A large part of the city, that which is downwind of the plant, was evacuated over the years because of the high concentration of dioxin. Today only the bones of a ghost town remain.

In addition, the city is divided in two by a large black mountain made of copper processing debris called Black Slag. It is twenty meters high and more than two kilometres in length, and the dust constitutes a constant threat to the population, especially when the wind blows.

At the end of the 1980s the protests of several environmental NGOs succeeded in getting the copper smelting plant closed. The area was also recognized by the Russian Ministry of the Environment as an "ecological disaster zone." But the economy of the whole town depended on the plant, and the population became unemployed. So in 1998, under pressure from the unemployed local population, the government was forced to re-open the facility. The plant was re-opened without any safety improvements or any environmental assessment. Today, the landscape is completely burned by carbon dioxide. The copper smelting plant has transformed the area into a living hell.

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  • The results of a survey conducted by the Chelyabinsk Provincial Institute for Public Health and Environment in 1994 found that children from Karabash were considerably smaller than children from the control group, had 3.5 times more birth defects, 2.7 times more skin diseases and suffered from heavy metal poisoning.

  • An enormous black mountain, 15 meters high and 2 km long, called black slag, surrounds the city of Karabash. It is made by industrial waste, heavy metal particles, very dangerous particles for the health of the population. 

  • The neighborhood that was downwind of the plant was evacuated a few years ago. now lies abandoned and in total decay.

  • The orange-red color of the rivers and lakes is due to the continuous pouring of waste from the copper smelting plant

  • . the river became orange due to the continuous discharge of waste from the plant. The forests, rivers and soil have a orange color because of iron, whose concentration is 500 times higher than normal limits. 

  • . The copper smelting plant was closed in 1990 when was declared by the authorities an "ecological disaster". But all the city jobs depend from the plant, all the population was without job and fall in poverty. So in 1998 the government was forced to reopen the facility under the pressure of the population that required work. The plant was reopened without any safety or environmental assessments.

  • Tatiana is explaining the impossibility to breathe when the copper smelting plant is operating

  • This part of the forest is completely burned by chemical poisoning substance

  • The landscape is completely burned by dioxide, and the copper factories keep transforming the area into a living hell.

  • . Karabash town was a city of about 24 thousands inhabitants. Now has 16 thousands inhabitants, half of the city is abandoned due to the high concentration of dioxide

  • A copper smelting plant, built more than 100 years ago, is situated in the town, and its toxic waste has created extremely large amounts of pollution and serious health problems for the inhabitants.


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