Karabash: The Russian Ghost Town
Project info

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 began, more than 180 tons of sulphur dioxide and heavy metals have been 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.

In 1970, Karabash was a city of 70,000 inhabitants. There are currently 16,000. Those who have the chance, escape from this hell, but most of the population does not have the possibility to leave. As a result, their average life expectancy is 45 years. A large part of the city, 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.

Additionally, the city is divided in two by a large black mountain made of copper processing debris called Black Slag. It is 20 meters high and more than two kilometers in length, and the dust constitutes a constant threat to the population, especially when the wind blows.

The copper smelting plant has transformed the area into a living hell.

—Pierpaolo Mittica