World's top ten polluted places

Posted: 23 October 2006

Author: Maya Pastakia

A US environmental action group has named the world's 10 most polluted places on the planet.

Killer Communities 2006

The world's worst ten polluted hotspots:

  • Chernobyl, Ukraine
  • Dzerzhinsk, Russia
  • Haina, Dominican Republic
  • Kabwe, Zambia
  • La Oroya, Peru
  • Linfen, China
  • Maiuu Suu, Kyrgyzstan
  • Norilsk, Russia
  • Ranipet, India
  • Rudnaya Pristan/Dalnegorsk, Russia

The list compiled by the US-based Blacksmith Institute locates the top ten pollution hotspots in eight countries, affecting more than 10 million people, most of whom impoverished, with adverse health conditions.

Chernobyl is ranked one the world's worst polluted sites although it has been 20 years since the nuclear melt down; but most of the other sites are little-known, even in their own countries.

Russia leads the list of eight nations, having three of the worst polluted sites. In Dzerzhinsk, where chemical weapons were once manufactured during the Cold War era, the average life expectancy is 42 years for men and 47 for women. Chemicals and toxic byproducts, including Sarin and mustard gas, were pumped into aquifers and have contaminated the groundwater, according to the report.

Child stands in a battery dumping site in Haina, Dominican Republic. Photo: The Blacksmith Institute
Child stands in a battery dumping site in Haina, Dominican Republic. Photo: The Blacksmith Institute
A child stands in a battery dumping site in Haina, Dominican Republic. 91 per cent of children in the area tested above safe levels for lead in their blood.© The Blacksmith Institute
Other places include Haina, Dominican Republic, where battery recycling and smelting have resulted in alarming lead levels in the Haina community, with blood and soil levels greatly exceeding regular limits.

Linfen in China typifies many Chinese cities choking on industrial air pollution. Linfen is China's most polluted city, with residents claiming that they literally choke on coal dust in the evenings.

Local clinics are seeing growing cases of bronchitis, pneumonia, and lung cancer. Very high rates of lead poisoning are also seen in children in Shanxi Province. A growing number of resident deaths in recent years have been directly linked to this intense pollution.

Death sentence

Ulcerations due to exposure of contaminated water in Ranipet, India. Photo: The Blacksmith Institute
Ulcerations due to exposure of contaminated water in Ranipet, India. Photo: The Blacksmith Institute
These ulcerations are the result of exposure to contaminated water in Ranipet, India, a production site for sodium chromate and other chemicals used in treating leather.© The Blacksmith Institute
"The biggest culprits are heavy metals such as lead, chromium and mercury and long-lasting chemicals such as Persistent Organic Pollutants or 'POPs'," says Richard Fuller, director of Blacksmith Institute. "A particular concern of all these cases is the accumulating and long lasting burden building up in the environment and in the bodies of the people most directly affected."

"Living in a town with serious pollution is like living under a death sentence. If the damage does not come from immediate poisoning, then cancers, lung infections, mental retardation, are likely outcomes," the report says.

"There are some towns where life expectancy approaches medieval rates, where birth defects are the norm not the exception. In other places children's asthma rates are measured above 90 per cent, or mental retardation is endemic," the report says. "In these places, life expectancy may be half that of the richest nations."

Restoring land

"The most important thing is to achieve some practical progress in dealing with these polluted places," says Dave Hanrahan, Blacksmith Institute's chief of global operations.

"The good news is we have known technologies and proven strategies for eliminating a lot of this pollution," says Fuller.

To address problem, the institute has created the Polluted Places Fund, which would be supported by (and possibly managed by) international agencies. This Fund would provide investment for priority clean-up projects.

"This initial Worst-Polluted Places list is a starting point," says Hanrahan. "We are looking to the international community and local specialists for feedback on the selection process and on our list. We want to make sure that the key dangerously polluted sites get the needed attention and support from the international community in order to remediate them."

The top 10 list was compiled by the Institute's Technical Advisory Board which reviewed a list of 35 sites, developed from over 300 sites nominated by people and groups around the world. The selection criteria included the size of the population affected, the severity of the toxins involved and impact on child health and development.

The ten sites are not ranked according to the severity of pollution due to the difficulty in comparing large areas with generalised pollution to smaller ones with very specific and acute problems.

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To download a copy of the report and more information, click here

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