Developing Countries Host World’s Worst-Polluted Places

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Last week, the New York-based Blacksmith Group, a nonprofit dedicated to solving pollution problems in the developing world, released the results of a recent study of the world”s most polluted places. According to the group, sites in Russia, India, Peru, Zambia, China and the Dominican Republic topped the list of locations that qualify as ecological nightmares. Most of the problem areas lack strong environmental laws and suffer from unchecked development and/or resource extraction.

According to Blacksmith Director Richard Fuller, environmental problems cause up to 20 percent of deaths in developing countries, while lingering environmental toxins can lead to long-term health problems for millions of surviving people. “The worst problem is the damage it does to children’s development… and that damages the future of the countries,” says Fuller.

The sites were not ranked, as health records were spotty in many regions, making direct comparisons impossible. In general, cities with industrial operations like coal and metal mining dominate Blacksmith”s list. Fuller says that no U.S. sites made Blacksmith”s worst 10 list because American laws like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Superfund have helped clean up many areas.

In conducting its survey, Blacksmith researched 300 sites to come up with its final list of the 10 worst places. One such locale, Dzerzhinsk, Russia, was a former Cold War-era center for making chemical weapons, including Sarin and mustard gas. Today, the average life expectancy there is 42 for men and 47 for women. In another example, children in the African copper belt town of Kabwe, Zambia, suffer from lead levels in their bloodstream as much as 10 times higher than levels allowed in the U.S. Contaminated soils there from years of unregulated copper mining are to blame.