For most people, snow falling is a thing of wonder. It’s beautiful and there’s nothing that compares to watching the fluffy white flakes to fall to the ground and pile up. Snow fall also means fun winter activities are right around the corner: building snowmen, making snow angels, sledding, and more. Even those who aren’t necessarily fans of the snow (too cold, freezes up the roads, inconvenient, etc.) can’t help but feel entranced by the first snow of the year. And who wouldn’t? It’s a thing of beauty!
Siberia is also experiencing some snowfall. However, it’s not the beautiful white flakes that we’re all used to. Instead, black snow is falling from the sky. Yes, you read that correctly: black snow is falling in Siberia. And as if that’s not reason enough to be concerned, experts are warning that the snow is actually toxic. Lovely. As if the black tinge wasn’t enough to deter people from playing in it, the toxic chemicals present in the snow are definitely enough.
Currently, the black snow has coated several towns in Siberia, primarily within the region of Kuzbass. Kuzbass has a population of around 2.6 million people and is also one of the world’s largest coalfields. However, anywhere that has coalfields is at risk of the black snow.
And if we’re being completely honest here, the whole thing feels like it’s straight out of the Silent Hill film. If you’re familiar with the movie, then you know exactly what scene we’re talking about. When the main characters arrive in the town of Silent Hill, black ash is falling from the sky like snow. It leaves a gray, dirty covering on the ground and one of the characters stops to look at it. It also makes us think of the spooky parts where the world begins to “flake” off into black scraps right before the monsters come.So now we’re imagining all of Siberia as Silent Hill.
Unfortunately, it isn’t all that uncommon
So what’s worse than the fact that you got ripped off of your winter wonderland and got black snow instead? Well, probably the notion that this isn’t really that uncommon of an event. That’s right: this is actually pretty normal for certain areas of Siberia. So for those that had their fingers crossed that maybe the next dusting would be the fluffy white stuff, we’re sorry to disappoint; black snow is the area’s winter “treat”.
According to Vladimir Slivyak who is a member of Ecodefense (a non-profit environmental action group) recently told the Guardian “it’s easier to find black snow in the winter than it is to find the white snow everyone is familiar with.” Vladimir goes on to say, “there’s always coal dust floating around in the air and there’s a lot of it; it’s just hard to see. However when it begins to snow, you can easily see the coal dust. It’s here year round.”
Well, that’s comforting. We’re not sure now if we’d rather see it or remain blissfully ignorant.
Either way, the event is definitely disconcerting; especially the reaction that many locals have to the black snow. While images definitely find their way on social media for shock value, many residents seem unconcerned by the toxic snowfall and treat it the way anyone who’s burned out with regular white snow would: they simply ignore it and go on about their day.
So why is this happening all the time?
As we mentioned above, the black snow is a mixture of the white snow we’re all very familiar with and coal dust that’s present in the air. But the question that’s likely on everyone’s minds is, “why does this keep happening?”
The Siberian Times and the Guardian stepped up to answer the burning question at the front of everyone’s minds. The coal dust is released into the air where it’s free to mingle with the snow thanks to open coal pits and factories that aren’t properly maintained in the area. Normally, there are safety precautions and steps put into place to make sure as little of the coal dust is released as possible; but for many of these Siberian factories, safety concerns are all but out the window (no pun intended).
Recently, an official from one of the coal plants (who asked to remain anonymous and we personally don’t blame them) told the local media that there is normally a shield in place that’s meant to stop the powder from leaving the factory. However, their shield has malfunctioned and the official doesn’t know when (or if) the problem will ever be addressed.
But how can one plant’s malfunctioning shield lead to such a crazy environmental phenomenon? Well, it can’t. It certainly contributes but experts say that this isn’t necessarily hitched to one single source; there are tons of poorly maintained factories contributing. In other words, malfunctioning shields and other broken safety precautions are probably the norm for most of these factories.
According to the Moscow Times in December of 2018, several regional authorizes were accused of attempting to cover up the toxic black snow by painting over it with a white pigment. Yes, there were grown adults literally outside painting the black snow white in order to make it look as if everything is fine.
Real life Silent Hill
As if the black snow wasn’t bad enough on its own, it turns out that it’s extremely dangerous. The coal dust is incredibly toxic and the fact that it’s “raining” down on the area just further solidifies how sketchy this truly is. After all, it’s always present in the air; it’s just easier to see when it’s snowing.
The toxic snow is definitely a cause for concern because of its toxicity, but the fact that these chemicals are ever present in the air is probably a much larger concern. Kuznetsk Basin or Kuzbass for short is one of if not the largest coalfields in the world. According to Britannica.com, it spans for more than 10,000 square miles. Simply put, it’s a really big coalfield that’s pumping a lot of toxins into the air.
In 2015, Ecodefense published a report regarding the factory. Their research suggested that the average life expectancy was 3 to 4 years shorter than the Russian national average. Those who live in the area are also twice as likely to contract tuberculosis as well as childhood mental disorders. This is directly related to the coal toxins in the air, which are steadily released thanks to the poorly maintained factories and the fact it seems like nobody really cares.
It feels a lot like the days before regulations were put into place to prevent this kind of stuff. You know, back when people were pretty much unaware that what they were doing was killing themselves and the environment. But the fact that this is happening today when we know better is both archaic and scary. However, the solution to the problems at hand isn’t necessarily an easy or clean-cut one.
So just like Silent Hill, your life will definitely be cut short if you choose to stay here. And we definitely won’t be vacationing in Siberia anytime soon.
What can be done to fix the problems?
Of course the country should definitely start by addressing the issues that lie within the factories themselves. Malfunctioning shields and poorly run factories are just part of the problem though; there isn’t really a way to make the use of coal environmentally friendly. It’s bad for everyone and there’s hardly any escaping it.
Several British groups proposed the notion of boycotting the Kuzbass coal until the area takes steps to better protect the environment and local residents. However like we mentioned, there’s no way to make coal production safe. Even for factories that are doing their best to abide by rules, carbon dioxide is still released from these plants, which is of course one of the leading causes of climate change. We probably don’t need to tell you that it’s also bad for humans.
Money is also a factor. It’s no secret that Russia isn’t that well off; just Google search some images and you’ll see old cars, outdated technology, and buildings that look as if they haven’t been updated since the 50s. While Siberia is a little better off financially, it certainly doesn’t have the funds necessary to fix all of the problems with its factories, much less update them to current environmental standards.
Of course this isn’t to say that stronger measures shouldn’t be enacted (we’re looking at you broken shield factory), but black snow will probably always be a side effect of coal production in the Siberian region.
Famous for the wrong reasons
Siberia isn’t just famous for its black snow either; the area is a host to bizarre natural phenomena that keep it constantly in the news. Here’s a quick look at some of the other events that have happened that have us constantly asking, “what in the hell is going on with Russia?”
Blood rains down from the sky
sky is turning red
Return to power draws near
Fall into me, the sky’s crimson tears
Abolish the rules made of stone”
-Slayer “Raining Blood”
No, this headline isn’t a reference to the infamous Slayer song, although it does fit the circumstance. In July 2018, many people believed that the world was coming to an end and that it was all beginning in a small Siberian factory town. The town was experiencing rain, however it wasn’t your typical idea of rainfall; “blood” was falling from the sky and drenching everything. It wasn’t blood but rather it was a bunch of industrial waste that had been improperly stored that got sucked up into the storm.
Black hole sun
July 2018 seems to have been an unusually odd month for Siberia because later in that same month, the sun was blacked out for 3 hours in Yakutia, which has one of the coldest cities in the world. Many were calling the event a false eclipse or blaming acts of devilry on the sun’s disappearance. However, the sun was actually blacked out by a mysterious wall of dust. Given the black snows of Siberia, we imagine that the “mystery” dust was likely coal dust or other factory waste products being pumped into the air. However the fact that it was thick enough to block out the sun for 3 hours is highly concerning. But that’s Russia for you, right?
What in the world happened here?
While this isn’t a recent event, mystery has surrounded Patom Crater since its discovery. Many believe that a UFO crash-landed here while others argue that it’s a meteorite impact. Regardless of what left the 40 meters high by 100 miles wide mark in the earth, it remains one of those areas that locals won’t visit. Supposedly some of those who visit die strange, unexplainable deaths, household pets that visit the area suddenly disappear, and wildlife avoids the area altogether. Whether or not it’s superstition or there’s some truth to it, it keeps us shaking our heads in wonder at Russia.
Not that long ago we published a piece about the snow falling in Hawaii. This was definitely an unprecedented event, but one much less concerning than the fact that black snow is falling in Russia. Both of these strange phenomena have put a lot of the world on edge and climate change experts are also concerned. Of course the Siberian event is less to do with climate change and more to do with poorly maintained factories, but the coal dust entering the atmosphere is contributing to climate change as we mentioned earlier. We’d like to know your thoughts on the Siberia black winter and if you’re just as concerned about its effects as we are. After all, it’s putting lives in danger and damaging our ozone. We also want to know if you have any solutions for the problem at hand. Do you think we should move away from coal completely and if so, what do we replace it with? Feel free to let us know in the comments! We’d love to discuss it with you, after all this recurring event is something that affects us all in one way or another.