Karabash, a Russian industrial town has been called the most polluted city on Earth. Home to a major copper smelter, Karabash sees acid rains, poisoned air, barren soil, and a pile of slag that dwarfs the nearby homes.

In 1910, the Karabashmed copper smelter opened at the foot of the Ural Mountains. By 1916, it was producing one third of Russia's copper. Unfortunately for the 15,700 residents of Karabash, copper smelting has gradually destroyed the land and air. The plant has long pumped derivatives from lead, sulfur, arsenic, and copper into the air, with no clean-up processes attempted. Not only is the air toxic — eye-stinging and hard to breathe — it also brings down acid rain, destroying the soil and thinning the once-dense forest with lifeless bald patches.

After a toxic leak killed off the residents' gardens, the smelting company was finally ordered to modernize the plant to reduce pollution. But even if the company manages to stem the current tide of pollution, Karabash still must deal with the lingering effects of a century of copper production and currently sits in a state of ecological emergency.


Karabash, one of the dirtiest towns in Russia and the world [RIA Novosti via English Russia]

A street in Karabash

A smelting plant

The soil near the plant

This black slag heap, which contains the refuse from the smelting process, stretches across the town