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The Top 10 Worst Polluted Places on Earth

Report Raises Alarm about Global Pollution and Points to Solutions

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More than 10 million people in eight different countries are at serious risk for cancer, respiratory diseases, and premature death because they live in the 10 most polluted places on Earth, according to a report by the Blacksmith Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to identify and solve specific environmental problems worldwide.

Top 10 Worst Polluted Places Remote but Toxic
Chernobyl in Ukraine, site of the world’s worst nuclear accident to date, is the best known place on the list. The other places are unknown to most people, and located far from major cities and populations centers, yet 10 million people either suffer or risk serious health effects because of environmental problems ranging from lead contamination to radiation.

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

“There are some towns where life expectancy approaches medieval rates, where birth defects are the norm not the exception,” the report continues. “In other places children's asthma rates are measured above 90 percent, or mental retardation is endemic. In these places, life expectancy may be half that of the richest nations. The great suffering of these communities compounds the tragedy of so few years on earth."

Top 10 Worst Polluted Sites Serve as Examples of Widespread Problems
Russia leads the list of eight nations, with three of the 10 worst polluted sites. Other sites were chosen because they are examples of problems found in many places around the world. For example, Haina, Dominican Republic has severe lead contamination—a problem that is common in many poor countries. Linfen, China is just one of several Chinese cities choking on industrial air pollution. And Ranipet, India is a nasty example of serious groundwater pollution by heavy metals.

The Top 10 Worst Polluted Places
The Top 10 worst polluted places in the world are:

  1. Chernobyl, Ukraine
  2. Dzerzhinsk, Russia
  3. Haina, Dominican Republic
  4. Kabwe, Zambia
  5. La Oroya, Peru
  6. Linfen, China
  7. Maiuu Suu, Kyrgyzstan
  8. Norilsk, Russia
  9. Ranipet, India
  10. Rudnaya Pristan/Dalnegorsk, Russia
Choosing the Top 10 Worst Polluted Places
The Top 10 worst polluted places were chosen by the Blacksmith Institute’s Technical Advisory Board from a list of 35 polluted places that had been narrowed from 300 polluted places identified by the Institute or nominated by people worldwide. The Technical Advisory Board includes experts from Johns Hopkins, Hunter College, Harvard University, IIT India, the University of Idaho, Mount Sinai Hospital, and leaders of major international environmental remediation companies.

Solving Global Pollution Problems
According to the report, “there are potential remedies for these sites. Problems like this have been solved over the years in the developed world, and we have the capacity and the technology to spread our experience to our afflicted neighbors.”

“The most important thing is to achieve some practical progress in dealing with these polluted places,” says Dave Hanrahan, chief of global operations for the Blacksmith Institute. “There is a lot of good work being done in understanding the problems and in identifying possible approaches. Our goal is to instill a sense of urgency about tackling these priority sites.”

Read the full report: The World’s Worst Polluted Places: The Top 10 [PDF]

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