It’s definitely not one of the ‘Top Ten’ lists you’re likely to be campaigning for, The Blacksmith Institute, an NGO that works to solve pollution problems in the developing world, has released its second annual list of the World’s Most Polluted Places. This year’s list includes two sites each in China, India and Russia, and one site in Azerbaijan, Peru, Zambia and Ukraine. This threat is affecting more than 12 million people, according to the research done by Blacksmith with Green Cross in Switzerland. Those 12 million people mentioned are well open to respiratory diseases such as asthma, as well as birth defects and premature death.
Many of the sites’ pollution comes from mining of heavy metals like lead and chromium; all of the sites pose serious threats to human health and the environment.
LA OROYA, PERU
Since 1922, adults and children in La Oroya, Peru - a mining town in the Peruvian Andes and the site of a poly-metallic smelter - have been exposed to the toxic emissions and wastes from the plant. Peru’s Clean Air Act cites La Oroya in a list of Peruvian towns suffering from critical levels of air pollution, but action to clean up and curtail this pollution has been delayed for area’s 35,000 inhabitants.
An industrial city founded in 1935 as a slave labor camp, the Siberian city of Norilsk, Russia is the northernmost major city of Russia and the second largest city (after Murmansk) above the Arctic Circle. Mining and smelting operations began in the 1930s and this city now contains the world’s largest heavy metals smelting complex, where nearly 500 tons each of copper and nickel oxides and two million tons of sulphur dioxide are released annually into the air. The city has been accused of being 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.
A 1999 study found elevated copper and nickel concentrations in soils in as much as a 60 km radius of the city.
Shanxi Province is at the heart of China’s enormous and expanding coal industry, providing about two thirds of the nation’s energy. Within this highly polluted region, Linfen has been identified as one of its most polluted cities with residents claiming that they literally choke on coal dust in the evenings. In terms of air quality, the World Bank has stated that 16 out of 20 of the world’s worst polluted cities are in China while the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) has branded Linfen as having the worst air quality in the country. Levels of SO2 and other particulates are many times higher than limits set by the World Health Organization.
Sukinda Valley, in the State of Orissa, contains 97% of India’s chromite ore deposits and one of the largest open cast chromite ore mines in the world. Twelve mines continue to operate without any environmental management plans and over 30 million tons of waste rock are spread over the surrounding areas and the Brahmani riverbanks. Untreated water is discharged by the mines into the river. This area is also flood-prone, resulting in further contamination of the waterways. Approximately 70% of the surface water and 60% of the drinking water contains hexavalent chromium at more than double national and international standards and levels of over 20 times the standard have been recorded.