Tokyo: Four cities in China, India and Azerbaijan were added to a list of the world’s 10 most polluted places, Blacksmith Institute said, citing a legacy of mining, Cold War-era pollution and unregulated industrial production.
Tianjin in China, Sumgayit in Azerbaijan and India’s Vapi and Sukinda joined cities including Chernobyl in Ukraine and Norilsk in Russia on this year’s list, the New York-based environmental group said on its website. The Top 10 sites lie in seven countries affecting about 12 million people. India now has four sites in the global “Dirty 30” list that Blacksmith puts out.
Tianjin is China’s major lead production base, contributing to lead poisoning and various disorders and illnesses in children
Environmental hazards are responsible for about a quarter of the total burden of disease worldwide, and almost 35% in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization. As many as 13 million deaths could be prevented every year by making our environments healthier.
“Children are sick and dying in these polluted places, and it’s not rocket science to fix them,” said Richard Fuller, Blacksmith Institute’s founder and director, in a statement. “There has been more focus on pollution in the media, but there has been little action in terms of new funding or programmes.”
The institute’s Top 10 list is based on scoring criteria devised by an international panel that includes researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University and Mt Sinai Hospital.
Specialists from Green Cross Switzerland also participated in this year’s assessment of more than 400 polluted sites, the group said.
Industrial estates of Vapi, in Gujarat, are contaminated with more than 50 poisons and groundwater there contains pesticides, chromium, mercury, lead and cadmium. Sukinda, in Orissa, has about 97% of India’s chromite ore deposits, and 12 mines operate without environmental controls, leaching chromium compounds into drinking water supplies.
A woman worker in Orissa’s Sukinda, which has about 97% of India’s chromite ore deposits, exposed to water contaminated by hexavalent chromium. Infertility, birth defects and stillbirths are rife in this mining area
Blacksmith’s website (www.blacksmithinstitute.org) notes that Sukinda is a classic example of pollution where the wastes are spread over a large area and residents are affected by the chromium through multiple pathways. The pollution problem from the chromite mines is well known and the mining industry has taken some steps to reduce the levels of contamination by installing treatment plants. However, according to state audits from Orissa, these fail to meet agency regulations. The Orissa government has said, “It is unique, it is gigantic and it is beyond the means and purview of the (Orissa Pollution Control) Board to solve the problem,” the site notes.
Various organizations have carried out studies in Sukinda proving the debilitating health impacts of the toxic pollution. However, remediation actions remain piecemeal with no decisive plans to provide for effective health monitoring and abatement programmes.
In Vapi, Blacksmith’s website says, many residents have no choice but to drink contaminated well water as other clean water sources are more than a mile away. The Indian Medical Association reported that most of the drinking water supplies are contaminated because of the absence of a proper system for disposing industrial effluents. This has resulted in very high incidences of respiratory diseases, chemical dermatitis, carcinoma, skin, lung and throat cancers. Women in the area report exceedingly high incidences of spontaneous abortions, bleeding during pregnancy, abnormal foetuses, and infertility. Children’s ailments include respiratory and skin diseases and retarded growth.
Polluting activities in Gujarat’s Vapi have spread diseases among residents. Industrial estates here are contaminated with more than 50 poisons
Blacksmith says that the efforts to improve the local river and water quality are hampered by the haphazard dumping of sludge from the treatment plant and the widespread dumping of various industrial and hazardous wastes in the general area.
There has been considerable NGO activity and efforts by environmental authorities but effective clean-up at the various sites remain limited.
Several treatment, storage and disposal facilities are now coming into operation in the area and can deal with some of the ongoing wastes but inthe absence of a comprehensive and committed clean-up effort, the problems in Vapi will remain.
Other places on the list, which were ranked by alphabetical order rather than the degree of pollution, were Linfen in China, La Oroya in Peru, Dzerzhinsk in Russia and Kabwe in Zambia.
The Dirty 30, Blacksmith’s extended list of polluted locations, includes mostly sites in Asia, with China, India, and Russia having the greatest number, it said. Toxic pollution resulted from “sources as diverse as massive industrial estates, large-scale mining and smelting operations and even Cold War-era chemical weapons production”, Blacksmith said in its statement.
The methodology of the study this year was refined to place more weight on the scale and toxicity of the pollution and on the numbers of people at risk, it said.
China is paying for its fast-paced economic growth with an environmental disaster beyond the control of the central government, Elizabeth Economy, a scholar at the US Council on Foreign Relations, saidlast week.
About one-third of China’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters are polluted because of farming and industry waste and pose a threat to human health, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a report in July.
The Dirty 30 includes two other Indian sites. The Mahad Industrial Estate in Maharashtra is listed for heavy metals and organic pollutants and Blacksmith says that “the resident population in the area is being adversely affected by severe contamination of the local soils and waterways. “We are not aware of any health surveys being conducted in the area but the impact is presumed to be extreme,” the report says.
The other location that makes the list is Ranipet, about 100 miles (160 km) from Chennai, where the issue is contamination of soil and groundwater, along with run-off from solid wastes that has affected thousands of people. While Ranipet has moved down the list, Blacksmith says that is primarily because of addition of new cities to the most polluted among the Dirty 30.
China’s birth-defect rate is triple that of developed nations, the China Daily said on Thursday, citing Li Zhu, director of the National Centre for Maternity and Infant Health. At least a million Chinese babies born each year have defects, it said.
Tianjin, 130 km southeast of Beijing, is responsible for about half the production of China’s lead. Poisoning from the heavy metal “severely stagnates children’s intellectual development,” Blacksmith said. The city is also northern China’s largest port.
The former Soviet industrial base in Sumgayit in Azerbaijan is polluted by industrial chemicals and heavy metals, according to the institute’s report. Cancer rates in Sumgayit are 22% to 51% higher than the national average, causing birth defects, it said.
A Mint staff writer contributed to this story.