Russians Play Roulette with Pollution
Many Russian towns, heavily polluted by decades of emissions from filthy factories, are facing a devil’s choice between keeping factories running and thus endangering residents’ health or shutting them down and impoverishing residents. In the southern town of Karabash, where a 90-year-old copper-smelting plant long spewed pollution, two-thirds of the children in the town suffer from lead, arsenic, or cadmium poisoning, and there are high rates of congenital defects, cancer, and other serious diseases. The copper plant was shut down in 1987 because its emissions were so hazardous, but last year it reopened because the locals were desperate for jobs and the government badly wanted tax dollars from companies in need of copper. In 1998, the cash-strapped Russian government spent only a fraction of 1 percent of its budget on the environment, an estimated $250 million; the U.S. EPA, by contrast, spent more than $7 billion.