Air Clean Up

  • What Caused the Black Snow in Kazakhstan?

What Caused the Black Snow in Kazakhstan?

Feb 13 2018 Read 1561 Times

We all might dream of a White Christmas at home in the UK, but over in Kazakhstan, residents of the city of Temirtau were treated to a Black January. Why? Although an investigation into the cause of the phenomenon is still ongoing, it’s believed that the nearby metallurgical complex was to blame.

White to black

After a sizable amount of snowfall in December and January, residents of Temirtau were left deeply disappointed and concerned when their winter wonderland was transformed into a nightmarish vision of hell on Earth, virtually overnight. A mysterious coating of black dust settled on the newly fallen snow, turning much of it the colour of coal.

Moreover, the colouration appeared to bring with it a distinct odour, especially noticeable in the evenings and weekends. Residents were understandably upset and have taken to social media to post pictures of the bizarre phenomenon and call for the authorities to do something about the problem.

The engine room of Kazakhstan

The city of Temirtau, some 140 miles southeast of the country’s capital Astana, is home to approximately 170,000 people. It’s also the location of Kazakhstan’s largest steelworks and has traditionally been an epicentre of industry. The plant, known as Karaganda Metallurgical Combine, belongs to the industrial heavyweights ArcelorMittal.

Though emissions restrictions aren’t quite as stringent as they are in Europe, there is a framework in place to ensure that citizens are not subjected to unlawful levels of pollution across Central Asia. However, an investigation prompted by the black snow has found that the industrial company is liable to pay compensation for failing to comply with regulations.

“The department conducted an inspection at the ArcelorMittal Temirtau and the results showed the amount of emissions exceeded the limits. They also failed to fulfil the plan of environmental protection measures,” said Alibek Bekmukhametov, head of the regional Ecology Department. “With these violations in place, the enterprise incurs an administrative liability totalling 105 million tenge (£227,000) and will also have to pay 495 million tenge (£1.07 million) for the environmental damage.”

Public outcry

Notwithstanding the fine to ArcelorMittal, Temirtau residents have called on the company and on their government to do more to tackle the problem. As a hotbed of industrial activity, the Karaganda region regularly suffers from terrible levels of air quality; in December 2017 alone, levels of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) were exceeded by 11 times the legal limit.

As a result, angry residents have created a petition which has received in excess of 5,000 signatures. “The snow acts as a litmus test, revealing the frightening scale of these harmful emissions,” the petition said. “All that dust from the plant ends up in our lungs, and in the lungs of our kids.”

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