World's 10 Worst Pollution Spots

NEW YORK, New York, October 18, 2006 (ENS) - The world's 10 most polluted places threaten the health of more than 10 million people in eight countries, according to a report released today by a U.S. environmental action group. Three of the most polluted sites are in Russia, the report said, with the remaining seven located in China, Dominican Republic, India, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Ukraine and Zambia.

The report was released by the Blacksmith Institute and compiled by a team of international environment and health experts, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Mt. Sinai Medical Center and City University of New York.

"A key criterion in the selection process was the nature of the pollutant," said Richard Fuller, director of Blacksmith Institute. "The biggest culprits are heavy metals - such as lead, chromium and mercury - and long-lasting chemicals - such as the `persistent organic pollutants.' That's because 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."

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Children scavenging a mine in Kabwe, Zambia, one of the sites on the list. (Photo courtesy Blacksmith Institute)

With the exception of Chernobyl, the Ukranian site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, most of the locations on the list are little-known - even in their own countries.

The most-polluted sites primarily affect communities deep in poverty, the report said, but there are potential remedies.

"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 report said.

The list includes:

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

The report warns that 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 percent, or mental retardation is endemic," it said. "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."

Blacksmith said it plans to circulate the report extensively to development agencies and local governments, working to place clean-up on the policy agenda in their respective countries and to initiate fundraising to help these regions.

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Tannery runoff in India is polluting the water supply of some 3.5 million people. (Photo courtesy Blacksmith Institute)

"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. "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."

"This initial Worst-Polluted Places list is a starting point," Hanrahan added. "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."