Nearly 4,000 children have been evacuated from both sides of the Crimean border due to pollution-related health and safety concerns. The industrial pollution has long been a problem but the ecological crisis caused officials to start taking notice in August when metal items began rusting, fields suddenly changed colors, and the air became dense with mist.

According to doctors and ecologists, the disaster is the result of massive industrial pollution stemming from a Titanium Dioxide plant in Armyansk, Crimea. Titanium Dioxide is a powder used in the manufacturing of everyday items like paint and toothpaste. Due to the area’s current state of political unrest, both countries have weighed in on possible causes and, while their explanations may differ, they do agree that the plant is the original source of the pollution. Ukrainian officials believe the pollution is originating from the current operations of the chemical factory, while the Russians claim that a dried up sulfur waste effluent pond is the source.

Determining the actual cause is critical at this point because of both safety and politics. If Russian officials are correct and the effluent pond is the source, that would mean that the pollution is the direct result of area conflicts. For many years, the effluent pond created by Titan was fed by River Dnieper of Ukraine during the dry summer seasons. Once Russia annexed Crimea, Ukraine cut off the water supply in an act demonstrating their refusal to accept the annex. The lack of water flowing to the pond enabled it to dry out, thereby increasing its acid concentration. Windy conditions easily blew the residue out of the pond bed.  

The blowing residue has negatively impacted individuals on both sides of the Crimean border. Nearly 22,000 citizens living in the Russian-controlled city of Armyansk are forced to keep their doors and window shut tight for safety. There are frequent reports of shortness of breath, burning sensations in their nose and throat, and allergy development. Ukrainian physicians also fear that complaints of stomach ailments will rise as an after-effect of eating contaminated fruits and vegetables or other inadvertent ingestion. A state of emergency has been declared in Armyansk.

Citizens are concerned about their safety and their health, although not many of them have the capability to leave the area. Russian authorities in Crimea worked quickly to shut down the factory, which has been in operation for nearly 50 years and employs more than 4,000 people, in early September. It remains unclear, however, whether the shut-down will help if the source is indeed the effluent pond.