BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Programmes: Correspondent  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Correspondent Friday, 7 March, 2003, 15:03 GMT
Russia's deadly factories
Tim Samuels in mask in front of factory
With such horrific pollution - can life be normal?

Have your say

Dzerzhinsk, 240 miles east of Moscow, has an unenviable entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. It is officially the most chemically polluted city in the world.

Despite this, Tim Samuels ventures inside to report.

Dzerzhinsk, a once-secret Russian city, is where the former Soviet Union made its vast arsenal of chemical weapons and other industrial chemicals.

The chemical weapons are now history, but Dzerzhinsk is not an idle relic of the Cold War.

A quarter of the city's 300,000 residents are still employed in the factories turning out toxic chemicals.

Dr Muradian, of the city's maternity hospital
Dr Muradian: "Situation is simply catastrophic."
These factories are responsible for a high level of pollution that is having an alarming effect on the population - and with men, in particular.

Young at risk

Official figures of the average life expectancy in Dzerzhinsk do not exist.

Environmental campaigners say a man in this city can expect to live to 42 and a woman to 47.

But the young are the most vulnerable - their bodies least adapted to cope with the poisonous environment.

In the local cemetery, there are a shocking number of graves of people below the age of 40.

Once sworn to secrecy, Dr Muradian of the city's maternity hospital, delivers the city's birth and death statistics.

They are far worse than the rest of Russia.

He explains: "This year the death rate exceeds the birth rate by 2.6 times.

"If, on average, six to eight babies are born each 24 hours, 15 to 18 people die.

"The situation is simply catastrophic."

Toxic impotence

The shortage of men in the city and the concern about the level of male libido, is something that the women are tackling in different ways.

Olga has concerns for her daughter too
Olga, an intelligent discerning architect is seeking love online after her husband tragically died of cancer, in his 40s.

She said: "The environmental situation in our town has affected women positively and men negatively.

"Women are beautiful and sensual, whereas men have problems.

"Our men are poor sex performers. This is a real tragedy for our women. It's a chore for them to drag their husbands to bed."

One former factory worker, Serafim Krivin has notched up 53 years loyal service at the local factory.

His wife Viera worked there too. Their two sons have followed their parents - working in the same factory.

But in his retirement, Serafim is becoming an "eco-warrior".

He is asking the authorities awkward questions about the damage being caused by the factories' lethal mix of chemical waste.

He described how one neighbour lost their cow: "She bought a young, strong cow, for breeding.

Serafim Krivin
Serafim Krivin is determined to get answers
"Because she was busy getting ready for work, she didn't have time to give it water, so she hung a bucket on the cow's neck.

"The cow drank from it twice and dropped dead."

Chemical cocktail

And it is easy to see how.

Close to Serafim's home is a white sea of toxic chemicals discharged from nearby factories.

These chemicals have turned the water into a white sludge.

Greenpeace say this is the "dirtiest spot on earth".

It is brimming with dioxins - by-products of chlorine production.

These can cause cancer, even in minute doses.

There are also high levels of phenol - an industrial chemical which can lead to acute poisoning and death.

Dzerzhinsk factory
The daily outpouring of grief goes on
These levels are 17 million times over the safe limit.

The Director of the Regional Ecological Monitoring Centre, Sergei Ditatiev, admits some horrifying figures: "Over 1,150 sources of pollution have been discovered.

"Of these more than 150 are of the most dangerous type.

"Among them, 24 main pollutants were specified as deadly dangerous for our health."

Despite the odds against longevity in Dzerzhinsk, the citizens have an almost black comic pride and continue to display a strange, infectious zest for life.

Russia: Poison City, was broadcast on BBC Two on Sunday, 9 March, 2003 at 1815 GMT.
Dr Grachya Muradian
"This year, the death rate exceeds the birth rate"
Sergei Ditatiev, Director of Ecological Monitoring
"Four weeks ago, my wife died"
Dr Grachya Muradian
Black humour survives in Dzerzhinsk
See also:

28 Dec 02 | Country profiles
28 Dec 02 | Europe
21 Sep 02 | Europe
05 Mar 03 | Politics
05 Mar 03 | Europe
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Correspondent stories are at the foot of the page.

 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Correspondent stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |