The 10 Most Polluted Places on Earth
Billions of people worldwide are affected by pollution from
industrial waste and air emissions. In the worst cases, tens
of thousands of people are literally poisoned to death each
year, according to the environmental group the Blacksmith
The 10 worst polluted places on earth were chosen based
on their severe impact to human health -- and particularly
that of children.
In fact, a full 20 percent of premature deaths in the developing
world are caused by pollution, according to the World Health
Organization. Meanwhile, still others living in polluted areas
suffer from neurological problems, damaged immune systems,
birth defects and other long-term health problems.
To help place international awareness on some of the world's
most polluted places, and to help spread the word that practical
solutions exist, the Blacksmith Institute has created "The
World's Worst Polluted Places 2006."
The report lists the top 10 locations on Earth where polluted
air, water and/or soil are severely impacting human health,
and particularly the health of children.
Over 10 million people in eight countries who live near these
10 locations are being put at an increased risk of cancer,
respiratory and other chronic diseases and premature death,
according to the report.
The World's 10 Most Polluted Places
The city is a significant center of Russian chemical manufacturing
and was a principal production site of chemical weapons until
the end of the Cold War. Chemicals and toxic byproducts in
groundwater and water supplies include dioxins, phenol,
mustard gas, lead and other persistent organic chemicals.
Some chemicals in the groundwater are reported to be 17 million
times the safe limit.
About 300,000 people are affected, and the average life expectancy
in the city is just 42 years for men and 47 for women.
Currently, a large-scale remediation and pollution mitigation
plan for the entire affected area is being designed.
- Linfen, Shanxi Province, China
A primary center of China's coal industry where residents
say they choke on coal dust in the evenings. Toxins found
in the city's air, water and elsewhere include fly-ash, carbon
monoxide, nitrogen oxides, PM-2.5, PM-10, sulfur dioxide,
organic compounds, arsenic and lead.
Some 200,000 people are at an increased risk of bronchitis,
pneumonia, lung cancer and arsenicosis, an environmental chemical
disease caused by drinking elevated concentrations of arsenic.
Meanwhile, the report noted that Linfen is just an example
of many highly polluted cities in China. According to World
Bank, 16 of the world's most polluted cities are in China.
Information on cleanup progress in this area was not available,
according to the report.
Located around the "Copperbelt," the once thriving
mining and smelting base in Zambia, Kabwe's soil and water
are polluted with lead and cadmium, affecting about 250,000
On average, in Kabwe children's
blood levels of lead are five to 10 times the allowable
EPA maximum. Symptoms of acute lead poisoning (vomiting, diarrhea,
muscle spasms, kidney damage) can occur at blood levels of
20 micrograms per deciliter and levels in excess of 120 can
often lead to death. However, levels of over 200 mcg/dl have
been found in the bloodstreams of Kabwe's children.
One of the most common ways people are exposed to the contaminants
in the area is by breathing in contaminated soil. Clean-up
strategies in Kabwe are in their primary stages. Residents
are being educated about the dangers (and told not to let
children play in the soil and to rinse dirt from plates, etc.)
while remediation efforts are being investigated.
Sadly, this top 10 list is only a sampling of the countless
polluted regions worldwide.
Home to the world's largest heavy metals smelting complex,
which discharges over 4 million tons of nickel, cadmium, copper,
lead, arsenic, selenium and zinc annually, Norilsk has been
closed to foreigners since November 2001.
About 134,000 people are being affected in the city, which
is called one of the most polluted places in Russia, "where
the snow is black, the air tastes of sulfur and the life expectancy
for factory workers is 10 years below the Russian average,"
according to the report.
Increased rates of respiratory, ear, nose and throat diseases
have been reported among children in the area, along with
problems with pregnancy and premature births.
In the 1980s emission reduction techniques were put in place,
however studies show that pollution is still a significant
problem in the area.
- Haina, Dominican Republic
A now closed automobile battery recycling smelter caused
significant lead pollution in this highly populated area.
Some 85,000 people in the area are at risk, and studies have
found alarming lead levels in the Haina community.
Birth deformities, eye damage, learning and personality disorders,
and death from lead poisoning have all been reported at higher
than normal rates in the area. Cleanup activities are in their
early planning stages.
The home to the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986, Chernobyl
was exposed to 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs
dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. An estimated 5.5 million
people were initially affected.
An estimated 100 tons of uranium and other radioactive products,
such as plutonium, are still trapped within the plant itself,
and could be released if there was another accident. Meanwhile,
leaks in the structure may be contaminating groundwater. Thyroid
cancer in children and potential other cancer risks are the
major health concerns in the area.
Although expert groups have examined health impacts and remediation
effects in the area, implementation of an integrated radioactive
waste management program needs to be assessed before it can
be developed further.
The Blacksmith Institute and other environmental groups
are helping to spur cleanup and remediation efforts
at some of the most toxic places around the globe.
About 35,000 people are being exposed to toxic emissions
of lead and sulfur dioxide from a metal processing plant,
owned by the Missouri-based Doe Run Corporation, in the city.
Ninety-nine percent of children living in and around La Oroya
have blood lead levels that are higher than acceptable, and
surrounding vegetation has been killed off by acid rain.
According to Peru's Clean Air Act, La Oroya is suffering
from critical levels of air
pollution, but in 2004 the Doe Run Corporation asked for a
four-year extension on their environmental management plan,
so cleanup action has been delayed.
Leather tanning wastes are contaminating groundwater in Ranipet
with hexavalent chromium and putting about 3.5 million people
at risk. It's estimated that about 1.5 million tons of solid
tannery wastes from the last two decades are stacked in an
open yard near the plant, which is contaminating groundwater.
Indian farmers cultivating nearby land say that only one
in five crops does well and that the water causes ulcerations
to their skin and "stings like an insect bite,"
according to the report.
The National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) and National
Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) have
been assigned to design and implement remediation plans to
cleanup the area.
- Rudnaya Pristan and Dalnegorsk, Russia
About 90,000 residents of these two far east Russian towns
are suffering from serious lead poisoning from an old smelter
and the unsafe transport of lead concentrate from the local
lead mining site.
Children's blood lead levels in the area are eight to 20
times the maximum allowable U.S. levels, and drinking water,
interior dust and garden crops also likely contain dangerous
levels of lead.
The lead smelter shut down voluntarily after the Blacksmith
Institute showed the owner the impact of the lead on children's
health. Area children are having their lead levels tested
and are being treated if necessary. Meanwhile, residents are
being educated about the lead risks. A plan to remediate the
area still needs to be drawn up and implemented.
Mailuu-Suu is home to a former Soviet uranium plant that
processed more than 10,000 metric tons of uranium between
1946 and 1968. Today, it has 23 tailing dumps and 13 waste
rock dumps, which contain 1.96 million cubic meters of radioactive
Though 23,000 people are being immediately affected, the
area is prone to landslides, mudslides and earthquakes, which
means millions of people could potentially be at risk.
Studies have found people in the area to be getting high
doses of radon, and twice as many residents in the area suffer
from some form of cancer than in the rest of the country.
The World Bank has begun a project to "minimize the
exposure of humans, livestock, and riverine flora and fauna
to radionuclide associated with abandoned uranium mine tailings
and waste rock dumps in the Mailuu-Suu area." Costs of
the project are estimated at nearly $12 million.
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