Thursday, September 13, 2012


Dzerzhinsk is a Russian city situated on the river Oka, approximately 400 km east of Moscow. The city was founded in 1920 and named Rastiapino until 1929. In 1930, the settlement was renamed after Felix Dzerzhinsky, who was a Bolshevik leader that became the first head of the Cheka secret police. He was active from 1917-1926. Many people have been surprised that the city was not renamed after the Soviet Union’s collapse of communism in 1991. The Cheka secret police were a precursor for the more well known KGB.

Starting in 1941 and lasting through the Cold War, Dzerzhinsk housed the Soviet Union’s major chemical weapon development facilities. Many different types of highly toxic and dangerous chemicals were produced in Dzerzhinsk, including lewisite and mustard. However, some of the most devastating products were the large amount of prussic acid, phosgene, and arsenic based weapons that were manufactured. In 1965, the production of major chemical weapons was stopped in the area. During that time, some of the toxic materials were transported to various places for storage, but most of the material had to be buried due to the large concentrations of arsenic. In recent decades the Russian government has been attempting to eliminate the dangerous chemical facilities.


The population of Dzerzhinsk is around 250,000 people. The area is one of the main centers for chemical processing in the Russian Federation, producing synthetic ammoniac, fertilizers, and herbicides. In 2008, Dzerzhinsk had 38 large industrial corporations, which export goods all over the world. The area produces around 1,000 different varieties of chemical products. According to the 2007 ranking of the NGO Blacksmith Institute, Dzerzhinsk is one of the most polluted cities in the world, ranking as more deadly than Chernobyl. The areas water supply is contaminated with many toxins and the phenol levels are reportedly seventeen million times the safe limit.

Some estimates have the life expediency numbers in Dzerzhinsk very low for Russia. The 2007 NGO Blacksmith study actually suggested that the life expediency of Dzerzhinsk in 2006 was only 42 years for men and 47 for women. However, the Dzerzhinsk City Administration asserts that the Blacksmith Institute report is false and according to the city Health Department 2006 report, the average life expectancy in the city was 64 years. The Dzerzhinsk’s environmental agency has estimated that almost 300,000 tons of chemical waste was dumped in the city between 1930 and 1998. The area was until recently closed to tourists.

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