Karabash One of the most polluted cities in the world, Karabash in the Chelyabinskaya region of the southern Ural Mountains in Russia, is burdened with the dirty legacy of copper mining, chemical and heavy metal emissions and radiation leaks. The smokestack of the Karabash Copper Smelting Works has been spewing a thick soup of toxic fumes and metal particulates into the air for almost a century. Closed in 1987 when Soviet officials proclaimed it an “environmental disaster zone,” the plant was reopened 11 years later because the region needed jobs.
Black heaps of industrial waste tower 45 feet high around homes and apartments. Recently, the new owner of the smelter, the Russian Copper Company, has modernized the plant and installed filters to greatly reduce plant emissions. But for the residents of Karabash, the contamination of the past remains ever present. The Yamal Peninsula In the language of the indigenous Nenet, “Yamal” means “world’s end.” This 435-mile long peninsula in northwestern Siberia is home to both 42,000 Nenet and the largest natural gas reserve in the world. For a thousand years, the Nenet have herded their domesticated reindeer to summer pastures above the Arctic Circle.
But now, the Nenet’s traditional way of life is threatened by warming temperatures that turn the tundra into a boggy swamp and by the world’s rapacious appetite for natural gas. With the gas wells have come railroad tracks and natural gas pipelines that bisect herding routes and cause reindeers to break legs. Fish, once an abundant dietary staple, also have diminished; the Nenet blame offshore drilling. The Ob River, which the Nenet must cross to return to their southern pastures, freezes later than ever before, forcing reindeer to forage longer in depleted winter pastures.