Toxic black snow has been falling across parts of Siberia, with images and videos shared online showing the alarming impact of the region’s intense coal mining industry.
Over the past week, reports of black snow have come from the towns of Kiselyovsk, Leninsk-Kuznetsky and Prokopyevsk. These are located in the Kuzbass basin—one of the biggest coal mining regions in the world. Kuzbass, which covers about 27,000 square miles, is estimated to have about 725 billion tons of coal. The region was heavily developed for its deposits during the Soviet era.
The impact of industry is reflected in health data from the region—according to The Guardian , rates of tuberculosis, cancer and child cerebral palsy are all higher than the national average. Life expectancy is also three to four years lower than for the rest of Russia.
And the environmental cost is now widely recognized, with the black snow serving as a bleak reminder of what local residents call a “nightmare.”
“It’s harder to find white snow than black snow during the winter,” Vladimir Slivyak, from the Ecodefense environmental group, told the newspaper. “There is a lot of coal dust in the air all the time. When snow falls, it just becomes visible. You can’t see it the rest of the year, but it is still there.”
According to the Siberian Times, social media users criticized the lack of environmental protections in the region: “No cleansing systems, all the waste, dust and dirt, coal lay in the area. Our children and us are breathing it. It’s just a nightmare,” one person said.
Another user asked: “Is this what snow looks like in hell?”
The dust from the coal plants mixes with the air to produce the black snow. Kuzbass has numerous open mines—according to a 2015 report by Ecodefense, there are 120 mining facilities, including 66 miles and 54 quarries. There are also 52 enrichment plants. In 2014, an estimated 211 million tons of coal were mined.
Anatoly Volkov, director of the Prokopyevskaya coal plant, told The Associated Press that the black snow resulted from the escape of some emissions and that there was nothing the plant could do to “tackle coal dust in the streets.” According to the Siberian Times, he told a local TV channel that one of the plant’s shields that limits the escape of emissions had stopped working, meaning the air was not protected from the coal powder.
Andrei Panov, the deputy governor of the Kemerovo region, is expected to meet with environmentalists to discuss the problem of the black snow. However, according to the Siberian Times, he suggested it was not just the coal plants that were the culprits, citing car exhausts and coal boilers as other sources of pollution.
This was not the first time the region had experienced black snow. Last December, authorities in Kemerovo reportedly went as far as to paint black snow white to hide the effects of coal pollution.
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