What a difference a year makes.
Last year, Pure Earth embarked on our first cleanup project in Azerbaijan—at a toxic beach along the Caspian sea in Sumgayit—in a region we had designated as one of the “World’s Worst Polluted Places.”
Today, the beach is not only free of poisonous pollutants from industrial toxic sludge, but new signs of life are emerging.
Last year, working with our local partners, the project team removed the contaminated sand and soil to a special, designated landfill, and brought in clean fill. To stabilize the clean, sandy soil and prevent erosion, the team then planted ten to 15 species of local trees and shrubs, including pomegranates and grapes.
An irrigation system was put in place to maintain the greenery.
With cancer rates in Sumgayit 22–51% higher than average incidence rates in the rest of Azerbaijan, this cleanup was made a top priority.
Below, a sign on the beach shows the cleanup process that took place over the past year. [Read about the cleanup: A Toxic Beach in Azerbaijan Gets Cleaned Up, Solar Baths Become Safer]
Today, families visiting this beach will no longer be walking through toxic sand, and they can indulge in what locals call a solar bath—when they bury themselves in the sand—safely.
Rovshan Abbasov, Pure Earth’s local coordinator, told us last year: “I believe this cleanup is a symbol of what can happen in other polluted areas in Azerbaijan. People here have been telling me that this gives them hope. I live miles away in Baku and I feel the same way.”
When fully grown, the lush landscape will add a new dimension of natural beauty to the beach, and hint at what is beneath–clean, uncontaminated ground.