The project focuses on Karabash and other poisoned cities of the Soviet-era industrial belt located on the Chelyabinskaya region of the southern Ural Mountains, Russia.


A legacy of chemical and heavy metal emissions and radiation leaks, including one worse that Chernobyl, earned Karabash region a reputation as the most polluted spot on Earth in the 1990s.


During many years, the exploitation of old technologies for treatment of raw materials, produced about 30 million tons of waste that have been dumped in the city. The dumps contain considerable amounts of valuable substances, including copper, zinc, gold, silver, platinoids, rare-earth elements and a trace of rare metals.


The log dwellings and small apartment buildings of Karabash’s residents are literally surrounded by black heaps of industrial waste 14 meters/45 feet high.


The looming smokestack of Karabash’s blister-copper smelter has been venting as much as 180 tons of sulfur dioxide and metal particulates into the air every year since 1910, before the Bolsheviks came to power.

The Karabash Copper Smelting Works was closed in 1990 when Soviet officials called it an “environmental disaster zone.” The loss of jobs caused the town to fall into poverty, so the century-old plant was reopened in 1998 without a safety or environmental assessment.


When the plant reopened in 1998 under private management, hardly anyone objected.


This story is part of Climate Change by NOOR.