Black, Toxic Snow Falling In Siberia Reportedly Caused By Coal Dust

Open pit mine, digging for brown coal, Russia, Kuzbass, extractive industry
Kemdim / Getty Images

Snow is falling in Siberia, but it isn’t exactly a winter wonderland. Locals living in the coal-mining region of Kuzbass, Siberia, have been sharing photos and videos of eerie black-colored snow coating the entire town, which environmentalists say is toxic and dangerous for residents for come in contact with. The phenomenon is reportedly the result of coal dust in the air mixing with the precipitation. Many critics are seeing the black snow as a wake-up call to cut back on coal.

The Siberian region known as Kuzbass is one of the world’s largest coal fields and holds 2.6 million residents, according to LiveScience.

The snow that has fallen is tainted with toxic black coal dust released from the region’s open coal pits as well as improperly maintained coal factories. According to a coal plant official, a shield is meant to prevent coal dust from leaving the factory, but one shield had recently malfunctioned. Black snow is reportedly a common occurrence in coal mining regions of Siberia, though, so multiple causes may be at play here.

“It’s harder to find white snow than black snow during the winter,” explained Vladimir Slivyak, a member of nonprofit environmental action group Ecodefense. “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.”

Photos on social media show homes, streets, playgrounds, and cars covered in very thick and dark-colored soot-like substances. The Russian media referred to some scenes as “post-apocalyptic.”

According to Ecodefense, the annual and frequent appearance of black snow has longterm effects on health, as the snow contains dangerous heavy metals like arsenic and mercury. In 2015, the organization found that residents in Kuzbass have an average life expectancy that is three to four years shorter than Russia’s national average (66 for men and 77 for women), the Guardian reported. In addition, Kuzbass has seen an increase in cancer, child cerebral palsy, and tuberculosis.

Russia is the leading supplier of British coal imports. In 2017, about 90 percent of 4.2 tons of coal were shipped to Britain from Kuzbass.

The black snow plagues not only Kuzbass but other regions in Siberia due to improper transportation of the coal. Siberian residents are now showing concern and outrage, with some calling for boycotts.

“The best way to put pressure on them is to stop buying coal until they improve the situation,” Slivyak said.