National Geographic : 1993 Mar
Icon of a system that controlled many aspects of daily life but let air, water, and land pollution run unchecked, a steel plant in Novokuznetsk belches thick smoke into the Siberian sky (left). "We've inherited an eco logical disaster," says Boris Yeltsin, president ofthe sprawling Russian Federation. Every major river in Russia is pol luted, one-fourth of the drinking water is unsafe, and 35 million people live in cities where the air is dangerous to breathe. Russian officials blame air and water pollution for the precarious state ofthe nation's school children-only a quarter of whom are in good health. The toxic environ ment has taken its toll on the elderly as well. Life expectancy hasfallen in recentyears and is among the lowest in Europe.