Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The world's most polluted places

For the main article, see:

The most polluted place in the world, according to Blacksmith Institute's just-published list of top 10 such sites, is Sumqayit in Azerbaijan. Then there is (surprise!) Chernobyl in Ukraine. However, each of these countries only has one of these "most polluted" sites. That also applies to Zambia, whose 2nd largest city, Kabwe, is the 4th most polluted; and Peru's La Oroya is one of the smallest communities on the list (population 35,000) and the 5th most heavily polluted place in the world "due to lead, copper and zinc mining by U.S.-based Doe Run mining company".

If you followed the list above with any care, you should have wondered: whatever happened to the 3rd position? Well, that place belongs to Russia's Dzerzinsk — a center of Cold War chemical manufacturing. The city's 300,000 residents have one of the lowest life expectancies in the world: 45 years (that's 15 to 20 years less than the Russian average - and about half the life expectancy of a European or US citizen).

So why did I pull Russia out of the proper rank order? Because Russia has the distinction of having TWO of the ten most polluted places in the world, the other place being Norilsk, a city above the Arctic Circlem which takes the 7th prize in the Blacksmith Institute's list. Norilsk apparently contains the world's largest metal smelting complex and, therefore, some of the world's worst smog. Apparently, there is no living piece of grass or shrub within 30 kilometers of the city, and contamination by heavy metals has been found as far away as 60 kilometers.

My conclusion is that Russia tops this list, if one considers countries rather mere places.

The country that takes second place in the Blacksmith Institute list of top ten is China, which also has two cities that make the list. Linfen — a city in the heart of China's coal region in Shanxi Province - takes sixth position, and its three million inhabitants not only choke on dust but also find their drink laced with arsenic that leaches from the coal. And the air is so heavily polluted that it is difficult to see. Then China has Tianying in 9th place — a city of 160,000 that is the center of Chinese lead production, which the Chinese government acknowledges as one of the eight most polluted places in the country: lead concentrations in the air and soil are between 8.5 and 10 times (and local crops 24 times!) above China's national health standards.

The country that takes third place in these unfortunate stakes is India, which also has two cities on the Blacksmith Institute list. At 8th place in the list is Sukinda (population 2.6 million, Jajpur District, Orissa), which is home to some ten chromite mines (including one of the world's largest) — stainless steel is at least 10% chromium. The waters of the valley contain massive amounts of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium compounds because of the 30 million tons of waste rock lining the Brahmani River. Then, at 10th place in the Blacksmith Institute list of most polluted places is Vapi (population approximately 80,000; Valsad District, southern Gujarat) which has some 1,500 small-scale manufacturers (70% of which are involved in petrochemicals, pesticides, dyes, paints, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals). Though Vapi's Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) is the largest of its kind in Asia, and treats the pollutants of these units before the effluent is released into the Daman Ganga River, the resulting muck has nowhere to go.

Overall, the 10 sites in seven countries affect more than 12 million people

However, as you and I know, such lists sometimes provide too narrow a picture. So if one takes not the top ten on the list but the whole of Blacksmith Institute's "Dirty Thirty", then one finds
that Argentina, Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Peru and Philippines each have one place.

India has two additional places in the "Dirty Thirty" (Mahad Industrial Estate, and Ranipet).

China and Russia have four additional places each.

But one important point to keep in mind when considering such a list is the criteria which were used to compile it. Apart from the discretionary element that always goes into the making of such a list, the criteria for the Blacksmith Institute list are:

A1: Severity of toxins
A2: Amount or scale of pollutant
(These two factors are taken as multiplicative)

B1: Evidence of Human Exposure (via single and/ or multiple pathways)
B2: Reliable Evidence of Health Impact
(These two factors are taken as additive)

C1: Number of People Potentially Affected
C2: Level of exposure
(Factors C1 and C2 are taken as multiplicative)

C3: Number of children particularly at risk
(This factor is taken as additive to C1xC2)

If one uses the cruder measure of simply the number of people who live in these "most polluted places" , the figures work out as follows: Ecuador 30K, Peru 75K, Dominican Republic 85K, Kenya 100K, Philippines 250K, Zambia 255K, Azerbaijan 275K, Kazakhstan 300K, Bangladesh 500K, Russia 4.2 million, Argentina 4.5 million, Ukraine 5.5 million, and Mexico 15 million. Kyrgistan is a special case since the list's compilers did not have sufficient evidence on the basis of which they could make up their minds whether the affected numbers were only 23K or several millions. China and India each accommodate about 6.5 million people in their polluted locations - that is, after Mexico (which is the undoubted champion by this measure), China and India tie for 2nd place in terms of the number of their people in "most polluted"locations . Sphere: Related Content

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