Olmaliq is a company town developed by the Soviet Union in the 1930s, to exploit local reserves of copper, lead, zinc, gold, silver and barite. The town contains several enormous smelting facilities and related industries operated today by JSC Almalyk MMC, one of the largest mining-metallurgical enterprises in Uzbekistan.
The smelter operations have extensively contaminated Olmaliq, which is considered one of the most polluted places on earth. The air has high concentrations of sulphuric acid fumes and the ground has hundreds of tons of toxic waste. The Uzbek government has resisted calls to close the plant, arguing that the country's economy cannot afford to do so: The plant employs around 25,000 residents of the city, and accounts for a substantial share of the region's economy. However, in January 2005 the government announced plans to clean up the area, with a target of 2010.