A spread of dry land with a little to no colors except for a path of yellowish crust from once a polluted river. The sky is covered with smoke blown out from giant chimneys, making the view even more eerie and sad. If you are not familiar with Karabash and have only just stepped on it, you wouldn’t think that there are houses or even children around there. The smell of sulphur in the air and hills of ash make the town look like nothing but a huge plant. Being one of the most polluted cities in the world, Karabash is said to resemble the face of Mars. Let us see 5 facts of this town in Russia to understand why it looks like a post-apocalypse place.
1. One of the largest copper smelting center
Located to the south of Urals Mountain, about 90km away from Chelyabinsk, Russia, Karabash was founded in 1822 as a mining settlement. People who first started to live there were from the families of the mine workers. In 1928, it was granted the city status by the Soviet Union government. A decade and a half of copper mining completely destroyed the ecosystem and living plants in the area. The smelting produces sulfuric gas that gathers as cloud and pours down as acid rain which has been going on since 1970’s without any serious effort of purification.
2. Inhabited only by a small number of people
Today, only around twelve thousands people live in Karabash. Ten percent of them work for the smelting plant and it is safe to say that one in every three Karabash inhabitants has a connection with the plant. Looking back at the history, generation after generation have been living in this horrendous town. When the plant first started to operate, people lived right next to the plants. But as the pollution was getting worse and worse each year, they decided to leave the quarter and move away from the smelting location, about 2-3km to the north of the plant. Some even moved as far as up the Urals Mountain. The old residential buildings are now abandoned and the place looks like a haunted quarter.
3. One of the most polluted towns on Earth
Karabash is not the only city in Russia that started off as a heavy metal mine. Norilsk has the same history, but – compared to Karabash – it can be seen as a haven. Norilsk is still civilized and looking pretty with all the neat rows of building, historical establishment, clean streets, blue sky and all even though the quality of the air is very far from ideal for an inhabited city. Karabash, on the contrary, looks and feels like a nightmare. The waste from the smelting center releases a lot of toxic gases that contain heavy metal like lead, arsenic, sulphur, and mercury. Tree has stopped growing around the plant and the soil has turned black because of the thick deposit of poison.
4. The water from the tap can’t be consumed
Sak Elga River is the only river than runs through Karabash. It is now called Rusty River because the color of the water has turned into a mix of yellow, red, and orange from the plant’s iron waste combined with the downpour from the acid rain. Being the only source of water for the city, it is clear that the tap water is definitely not to be consumed. People have even quit turning their taps on because the water coming out of them is like a flow of horror. For their daily need of clean water, the people should find sources from way outside of town where the soil and water are safe from the plant’s emission.
5. Karabash is a giant gas chamber
Because of the heavy toxic consisted in the emission coming out of the plant’s chimneys when the progress of smelting is happening, Karabash turns into a huge gas chamber every now and then. Everything that the gas touches would die including vegetables that people plant on their back yards. They still have a choice to find water source from outside of town, but still have to survive with the produce from their own soil for daily consumption. A lot of Karabash citizens suffer from respiratory diseases like acute bronchitis and asthma even lung cancer. Can you imagine that the only safe way to breathe the Karabash air is by wearing a gas mask around? That should complete the post-apocalyptic scene.
What ironic about Karabash is that its existence indeed happens because of the copper smelting plant which is also the source of destruction to everything around it. It was once closed and stopped operating from 1988 to 1989 after the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment declared Karabash as an ecological disaster zone. But it was back up and operating again because the economy of the city depends on it – the employment of the majority of the people there lies in the plant’s hands. For the residents who have choices, they would move from the city to live in other way more civilized and healthier places. But almost 75% of them decide to stay because they can’t find a better living elsewhere and also because they have been living in Karabash for generations. There is no future in the city, but living day by day is a good enough option for the people.
In 2017, a treatment to the waste started so they can purify the water. It is going on, but still the water is not drinkable. The trees are said to start growing again even though – after a thorough air check – the quality has not been improving much. That is what is going on the Mars on Earth, the 5 facts about Karabash in Russia that might shock you and make you feel grateful for living in a better environment.