Saturday, September 15, 2007

Top 10 places to never, ever go

The 10 most polluted places on Earth have been identified by the U.S.-based Blacksmith Institute (h/t to Truthdig, and these are apparently in no particular order):
  • Sumgayit, Azerbaijan; Potentially 275,000 affected
  • Linfen, China; Potentially 3m affected
  • Tianying, China; Potentially 140,000 affected
  • Sukinda, India; Potentially 2.6m affected
  • Vapi, India; Potentially 71,000 affected
  • La Oroya, Peru; Potentially 35,000 affected
  • Dzerzhinsk, Russia; Potentially 300,000 affected
  • Norilsk, Russia; Potentially 134,000 affected
  • Chernobyl, Ukraine; Potentially 5.5m affected
  • Kabwe, Zambia; Potentially 255,000 affected
Of this list, I have previously heard of only one, Chernobyl, and it is hardly surprising that it is still not a good place to summer. Being me, of course, I want to know more. The BBC offered help on the three newest inductees to the list:
Among the new sites listed in 2007 were Tianying in China, where potentially 140,000 people were at risk from lead poisoning from a massive lead production base there.

The report also said that in the Indian town of Sukinda there were 12 mines operating without environmental controls, leaching dangerous chemicals into water supplies.

Sumgayit in Azerbaijan was also included in the report, which said the former Soviet industrial base was polluting the area with industrial chemicals and heavy metals.

According to the report, cancer rates in Sumgayit were as much as 51% higher than the national average and that genetic mutations and birth defects were commonplace.
That still leaves six cities undescribed, so now I turn to Google (I leave assessments of the objectivity and reliability of each account to the discretion of my intrepid readers, although it is clear some of the articles cited below have an axe to grind--which doesn't mean they're wrong).

Linfen, China:
According to China's latest pollution rankings, the country’s most polluted city is now Urumqi. Linfen, the city that formally held this title, is showing some small progress, says a recent article in The Guardian. Swallowed up by 50m tonnes of coal mined each year in the nearby hills of Shanxi province and located smack in the middle of a 12-mile industrial belt, Linfen plains to shutdown 160 of 196 iron foundries, and 57 of 153 coking plants by the end of 2007. In 2006, if you lived in Linfen, you inhaled 163 days of unhealthy air—but that’s a 15 day improvement when compared to 2005.
Vapi, India:
If India's environment is on the whole healthier than its giant neighbor China's, that's because India is developing much more slowly. But that's changing, starting in towns like Vapi, which sits at the southern end of a 400-km-long belt of industrial estates. For the citizens of Vapi, the cost of growth has been severe: levels of mercury in the city's groundwater are reportedly 96 times higher than WHO safety levels, and heavy metals are present in the air and the local produce.
La Oroya, Peru:
The health and environmental crisis in La Oroya, Peru, reached a new stage in December, 2004, when the government stated its intention to allow a metal-processing plant to delay implementation of its environmental management plan for four years.

Owned by the Missouri-based Doe Run Corporation, the plant is largely responsible for the dangerously high blood lead levels found in the children of this community. Ninety-nine percent of children living in and around La Oroya have blood lead levels that exceed acceptable amounts, according to studies carried out by the Director General of Environmental Health in Peru in 1999. Lead poisoning is known to be particularly harmful to the mental development of children.
Dzerzhinsk, Russia:
A once-secret manufacturing center of the Soviet Union's defense industry, Dzerzhinsk (population 300,000) has hosted many chemical factories, including production facilities for Sarin and VX nerve gas. Lead additives for gasoline, mustard gas, munitions, and other highly-polluting products have also had their birth in this city. While many of these factories are now shuttered, the chemical industry still employs over a quarter of local residents.

The groundwater and soil around the city, about 250 miles east of Moscow, remain severely polluted with phenol, arsenic, dioxins, heavy metals, and a host of other toxins. Indeed, a dominant ecological landmark in the area is the “White Sea”, a 100-acre-wide lake of toxic sludge discharged from nearby factories.

Clearly, Dzerzhinsk faces huge challenges in managing this legacy of toxic wastes. It holds the ignominious title of "The Most Chemically Polluted Town" in the world. Greenpeace claims that the average life expectancy of city residents may have shrunk to a mere 45 years. The city's annual death rate, 17 per 1,000 people, is much higher than Russia's national average of 14 per 1,000. And, according to researchers at the Nizhny Novgorod Research Institute of Hygene and Occupational Pathology, rates of reproductive health disturbances affecting women and fetuses, as well as rates of respiratory and pulmonary diseases in children, are dangerously high. In study after study, the health impacts of these chemicals continue to dampen enthusiasm and drain resources needed for economic and social recovery in Dzerzhinsk.
Norilsk, Russia:
Norilsk sits on a landscape stripped bare, its grizzled inhabitants choking on fumes not yet named in the periodic table of elements. For 100 miles in each direction a dead zone permiates, the snow is colored yellow, a putrid mix of mercury, cyanide, cobolt, and question marks. Seeds which blow in from greener pastures die on impact, with a rare few managing to sprout an inch, before turning gray and melting into dust.

Russians have toiled, eaten each other, and died here long before Soylant Green was filmed. Human bodies and their corresponding memories, hopes, and dreams are turned to nickel, melted down and sold for comforts of the West. A Russian expression goes like this: "The sooner you are imprisoned, the sooner you'll get out".

The road to Norilsk is no longer an involuntary one. Every slave of the smelter has a choice, work for $100 a month in your home city, or trek north for a salary of $600. The tradeoff is a life expectancy of 40 years. Weeds do not grow in Norilsk, but cancerous nodules do.
Kabwe, Zambia:
Kabwe, the second largest city in Zambia, has found itself on the top-ten of a new list of "the world's worst polluted places" due to very high lead concentrations left over from previous mining operations. Average blood levels of lead among children in some townships are five to ten times the level considered dangerous.

Kabwe is one of six towns situated around the Copperbelt, once Zambia's thriving industrial base. In 1902, rich deposits of lead were discovered here, leading to a century-long mining operation that never bothered too much about environmental standards and public health.
I suppose it's some small relief for me personally that my six years spent in Houston were not as damaging as they might have been.

Mostly, though, it sounds like these countries, Russia especially, need more hippies.

1 comment:

iguana said...

Linfen China would not benefit from more hippies. I blogged about the same blacksmith article because I spent time in Linfen. Check it out.