Most Polluted Locations On Earth

In 2006 the Blacksmith Institutes published a list of 10 locations it classified as the most polluted in the world. Five of these are in Russia located nearby within republics that we’re part of the old USSR. One additional site at Chelybinsk, also known as the Mayak site, is within Russia as well, and it is frankly difficult for me to understand how that site was left off the list. Also, if I include Chelybinsk(Mayak), which is severely contaminated nuclear site, means I should also include the Hanford, Washington (USA) site, which is also a severely contaminated nuclear site. Yet, I’ve already discussed both of these sites to some extent in previous posts so I’ll leave them out of the discussion here and focus on the original five Russian (USSR) sites of the Blacksmith Institutes list, but first we’ll look at what else is on the list and where it is located.

The non-Russian(USSR) sites are located in China, Dominican Republic, India, Peru, and Zambia. In four of these five sites the major problem is due to heavy metal contamination, often due to lead but usually involving other metals as well. The China site in Linten mainly involves serious air pollution from local industrial sources.

The Russian (USSR) sites not already discussed are noted below and include a brief description.

1. Chernobyl (USSR)… Contamination primarily due to an explosive disruption and fire at one of the main nuclear reactors the the reactor nuclear complex. The release of radioactivity was substantial and indeed worldwide, some of the ramifications of which were discussed in earlier posts. Major contamination of some nearby areas including towns was so heavy that they have been completely evacuated. These are no habitation zones. There are disagreements over how many casualties can be ascribed to the extensive fallout from the Chernobyl.

2. Dzerzhinsk (Russia)…A site 400 km. east of Moskow polluted from chemical weapons and other industrial production: A center for the production of arsenic based weapons, mustard gas, Prussic acid and phosgene. Large amounts of waste materials mostly containing high concentrations of arsenic are buried in dumps on sites of factories. Some factories were dismantled in the late 1990s, but as of 2008 Dzerzhinsk had 38 large industrial enterprises producing up to 1000 varieties of chemicals. For people living and working in the area in 2003 the death rate exceeded by the birth rate by 260 percent. Life expectancy for men was 42, for women 47. Greenpeace has attributed the low life expectancy to the persistence of dioxin pollution and also to sarin, lewisite (arsenic oxide), sulfur mustards, hydrogen cyanide, phosgene and lead. The drinking water is contaminated at least at seventeen times the safe level for several of these chemicals. Overall in excess of 300,000 tons of chemical waste were dumped in the city between 1930 and 1998. The Dzerzhinsk city administration claims the Blacksmith report is false and Moscow suggests that pollution of the city was moderate.

3. Norlisk (Russia)…Copper and Nickel oxide and other metals have been mined/smelted here since the 1930s. About 500 tons of copper and nickel oxide and two million tons of sulfur dioxide are released annually and life expectancy of factory workers is ten years less than the Russian average. The 130,000 local residents are exposed to sulfur oxide, heavy metals, phenols, and air pollution. Copper and nickel oxide are elevated in the soil. Children are one and a half times more I’ll than children in surrounding districts suffer from increased incidence of respiratory, lung and digestive system cancers. The town was founded in 1920 – 1935 as it became a center for the GULAG camp system. Over 17,000 prisoners died between 1935 and 1936 due to forced labor, starvation and intense cold. Urban type settlements began in 1939 and Norlisk achieved town status in 1953. It is located on the West Siberian plateau at the foot of the Plutoran mountains. The area has the richest nickel deposits in the world. Nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum, palladium and coal have all been mined since 1939. Severe pollution from sulfur dioxide has through acid rain basically deforested the surrounding area.

4. Rudnaya Pristam, Dalnegorsk, Russia…Until it was closed in 2006 Rudnaya was the only primarily lead smelter in Russia. It was also the principal site for rebuilding lead submarine batteries for the Russian navy. The river and port areas are highly polluted due to years of mine and mill discharges. Severely contaminated sub batteries and casings are also scattered about. These are used by local residents to build trails, fences, garages, rain collecting cisterns and also as containers for cattle and bird feed.

Residents also grow much of their own food in kitchen gardens in soil which is usually contains significant amounts of lead. About 60,000 people on Dalegorsk and Rudnaya and neighboring twns are at real risk for lead poisoning. Children and other residents have increased lung and respiratory disease, about 30-fold increases in stomach cancers and of blood-forming tissues compared to those from nearby unpolluted towns. Measurements showed soil lead levels varied between 500 and 10,000 mg/kg of soil. Children’s blod lead levels varied between eight and 20 times the maximum allowable levels for U.S. children.

An extensive clean up began in 2007. after which children showed as much as 40 per net declines in blood Lead levels.

5. Mailuu Suu, Kyrgystan (USSR)…Mailuu Suu is a Uranium ore mining town from which about 10,000 tons of Uranium ore was processed between 1946 and 1968. The ore is no longer economical to mine, leaving most of the nearby town looking for work. Remaining behind from mining operations are 23 uranium trailing pits on geologically unstable ground. A landslide in 1958 released 1.6 million gallons of uranium tailings down a hillside. Again in 1994 a large landslide blocked the Mailuu Suu river producing a flood and mudslide nearly submerging a tailing pit from 2002. Ultimately about 25,000 people are affected by this uranium pollution.


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