As part of the legacy of the former Soviet Union, Belarus's main environmental problems are chemical and nuclear pollution. Belarus was the republic most affected by the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986. Northerly winds prevailed at the time of the accident; therefore, most of the fallout occurred over farmland in the southeastern section of the country (primarily in the Gomel and Mogilev oblasts ). Most experts estimate that 25–30% of Belarus's farmland was irradiated and should not be used for agricultural production or to collect wild berries and mushrooms, although it continues to be used for these and other purposes. Belarus has 88 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In addition, Belarus has significant air and water pollution from industrial sources. The most common pollutants are formaldehyde, carbon emissions, and petroleum-related chemicals. In 1992, Belarus was among the world's to 50 nations in industrial emissions of carbon dioxide, producing 102 million metric tons, or 9.89 metric tons per capita. In 1996, the total fell to 61.7 million metric tons. The soils also contain unsafe levels of lead, zinc, copper and the agricultural chemical DDT. All urban and rural dwellers have access to safe drinking water.
As of 2001, Belarus had over 2,000 species of plants, 74 mammal species, and 221 breeding bird species. Four mammal species and four bird species were listed as threatened that year. Endangered species include the European bison and the European mink.