The 10 most polluted places on earth

| December 17, 2013

Shanghai earned some unwanted media coverage recently when photos of the smog-ridden air went viral on the Internet. People were stunned by images of the alarmingly opaque air, and rightfully so.

So would you believe that Shanghai doesn’t even crack the top ten on a list of the most polluted places in the world?

The New York-based Blacksmith Institute and a nonprofit in Switzerland called the Green Cross collaborated on a recent report highlighting the planet’s pollution losers.

The list received fairly widespread coverage, including a feature in Fast Company. Here are the top 10, along with the primary pollution culprit(s) and the number of people affected:

Number 1

Where: Agbogbloshie, Ghana

Culprit: Lead

People affected: Up to 40,000

Number 2

Where: Chernobyl, Ukraine

Culprit: Radioactive dust including uranium, plutonium, cesium-137, strontium-90, and other metals

People affected: Up to 10 million

Number 3

Where: Citarum River, Indonesia

Culprit: Lead, cadmium, chromium, pesticides, and other chemicals

People affected: 500,000+ directly; up to 5 million indirectly

Number 4

most polluted

From elzadj.

Where: Dzerzhinsk, Russia

Culprit: Chemicals and toxic byproducts from chemical manufacturing processes

People affected: 300,000

Number 5

Where: Hazaribagh, Bangladesh

Culprit: Chromium

People affected: 160,000

Number 6

most polluted


Where: Kabwe, Zambia

Culprit: Lead

People affected: More than 300,000

Number 7

Where: Kalimantan, Indonesia

Culprit: Mercury and cadmium

People affected: More than 225,000

Number 8

Where: Matanza Riachuelo, Argentina

Culprit: Volatile Organic Compounds, including toluene

People affected: More than 200,000

Number 9

Where: Niger River Delta, Nigeria

Culprit: Petroleum

People affected: “No one agrees on how many people are affected,” reports Fast Company

Number 10

most polluted

From dustyclub.

Where: Norilsk, Russa

Culprit: Copper, nickel oxide, and other heavy metals

People affected: 135,000

A lot of people will read this list and breathe an unpolluted sigh of relief because perhaps none of these places were high on their “Must Visit” list.

Here’s the thing: that may be true, but even if you never set foot in Norilsk or Agbogbloshie or any of the other places on the list, there are still upwards of 17 million people who live with this threat every day and don’t have the luxury of heading home to a safer place.

That’s why this matters to all of us.

We might pay more attention to smog in Shanghai than cadmium in Kalimantan, but our attention might be misdirected. As Fast Company reports, “Blacksmith/Green Cross says it chose the top 10 for ‘severity of their risk to health.'”

In other words, these threats are real, and they are acute. The report notes that while more press inches and funding are given to “highly publicized health problems such as malaria and tuberculosis,” they find toxic pollution to be an “equivalent” threat due to the “strikingly high number of people at risk.”

The next time you’re annoyed that your cubicle-mate didn’t properly sort his recycling, you can: a) educate him, and b) feel fortunate that you aren’t facing more imminently lethal environmental issues in your cubicle, such as radioactive dust.

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Category: Electronics

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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