Other Threats to Lake Balkhash

by Joshua Foust on 7/18/2007 · 1 comment

Lake Balkhash

Many moons ago, I posted a story discussing how water diversion in China was threatening Lake Balkhash.

It seems the lake faces many threats beyond China’s internal colonization and ill-conceived water projects. The factories of the nearby towns (including the appropriately-named town of Balkhash) have apparently so poisoned the land grass no longer grows.

Fake grass

Late on a Friday evening, workers at the municipal stadium in the Kazakh city of Balkhash were busy rolling out broad strips of artificial turf. Real grass can’t grow due to pollution from the local metal plant, explained the venue’s administrator. In honor of the city’s 70th anniversary, she said with a grim smile, the factory itself was paying to install a substitute…

The factory is largely devoted to smelting copper from nearby mines, although the complex also refines zinc, molybdenum, and precious metals in smaller quantities. Its owner, copper producer Kazakhmys, is one of Kazakhstan’s leading industrial concerns, and is among the top 100 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange.

City prosecutor Ramazan Intykbayev announced in late 2006 that Balkhashtsvetmet had recorded a number of violations of workplace safety and a near doubling of industrial accidents compared to the same seven-month period in 2005, according to news agency Kazakhstan Today. The prosecutor’s office opened two criminal cases and issued several administrative penalties as a result of its inspection, the report continued.

Workers said the plant is often unwilling to follow routine health and safety standards, and that Balkhashtsvetmet’s vital importance to the local economy made it all the less likely to clean up. “Conditions? There aren’t any conditions. There’s no one you can complain to. If you complain, the next day you’ll be fired,” said an employee at the copper factory who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

The whole gory story, including a very haunting photo essay, can be found here.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

Partial Observer July 19, 2007 at 12:10 am

Meanwhile, Balkhash is to become Kazakhstan’s Issyk Kul (see, e.g. http://bishkek.kp.ru/2007/07/11/doc186284/ – I can’t do hyperlinks)

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