Norilsk, Russia: One of the Most Polluted Places on Earth

Last month, Blacksmith Institute, an organization dedicated to fighting pollution in the world, released their annual list of the Top 10 Most Polluted Places.

Take for instance, this place: Norilsk, Russia:

An industrial city founded in 1935 as a slave labor camp, the Siberian city of Norilsk, Russia is the northernmost major city of Russia and the second largest city (after Murmansk) above the Arctic Circle. Mining and smelting operations began in the 1930s and this city now contains the world's largest heavy metals smelting complex, where nearly 500 tons each of copper and nickel oxides and two million tons of sulphur dioxide are released annually into the air. The city has been accused of being one of the most polluted places in Russia, where the snow is black, the air tastes of sulfur and the life expectancy for factory workers is 10 years below the Russian average. A 1999 study found elevated copper and nickel concentrations in soils in as much as a 60 km radius of the city.

Links: Blacksmith Institute | Time Magazine article | National Geographics article - via Ah Boon - Thanks Gahsoon!

A quick search on the Net revealed another website, which dubbed Norilsk as "Russia's Dead Zone," with a very colorful description of the city and its surrounding area. To wit:

Norilsk sits on a landscape stripped bare, its grizzled inhabitants choking on fumes not yet named in the periodic table of elements. For 100 miles in each direction a dead zone permiates, the snow is colored yellow, a putrid mix of mercury, cyanide, cobolt, and question marks. Seeds which blow in from greener pastures die on impact, with a rare few managing to sprout an inch, before turning gray and melting into dust. [...]

The road to Norilsk is no longer an involuntary one. Every slave of the smelter has a choice, work for $100 a month in your home city, or trek north for a salary of $600. The tradeoff is a life expectancy of 40 years. Weeds do not grow in Norilsk, but cancerous nodules do.


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Capitalism has more that its share of environmental disasters in its long and dirty history. If the Bush wholesale privitisation of government and it's ensuing neglect of environmental regulation is allowed to continue, watch for a mini sequel in a town near you.
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