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Blacksmith Institute Press Release

The 2006 Top 10 of Worst Polluted Places

Russia Has Most Sites. Developing Countries Hardest Hit.

NEW YORK - October 18, 2006 - The Blacksmith Institute, an independent environmental action group, today named the world's 10 most polluted places. Sites in eight countries affecting a total of more than 10 million people were identified as the areas where environmental degradation presents the worst long-term health threats and, at the same, an opportunity to reverse the problems.

"Blacksmith Institute's Worst-Polluted Places" report was compiled by a team of international environment and health experts, including faculty members from Johns Hopkins, Mt. Sinai Medical Center and City University of New York serving on Blacksmith Institute's Technical Advisory Board. They developed criteria to rate a list of 35 highly polluted sites derived from more than 300 that have been put forward to Blacksmith for support in clean-up. Nominations have come from local communities, non-government public-interest organizations (NGOs) as well as through discussions with a broad range of local, national and international environmental authorities.

Killer Communities

The ten places on Blacksmith Institute's Worst-Polluted Places list for 2006 are (in alphabetical order by country):

  • Linfen, China;
  • Haina, Dominican Republic;
  • Ranipet, India;
  • Mailuu-Suu, Kyrgyzstan;
  • La Oroya, Peru;
  • Dzerzinsk, Russia;
  • Norilsk, Russia;
  • Rudnaya Pristan, Russia;
  • Chernobyl, Ukraine; and
  • Kabwe, Zambia. 

A downloadable copy of the report and more information is available at www.worstpolluted.com.

The Biggest Culprits: Heavy Metals and Persistent Chemicals

"A key criterion in the selection process was the nature of the pollutant," says Richard Fuller, director of Blacksmith Institute. "The biggest culprits are heavy metals - such as lead, chromium and mercury - and long-lasting chemicals - such as the `Persistent Organic Pollutants' or `POPs'. That's because a particular concern of all these cases is the accumulating and long lasting burden building up in the environment and in the bodies of the people most directly affected."

Although it has been 20 years since the nuclear melt down, Chernobyl, is one of the top-10. Still, the majority of the most-polluted places are little-known, even in their own countries. Most of the people affected are exceedingly poor.

Russia leads the list of eight nations, having three of the 10 worst polluted sites. Other sites were chosen because they served as examples for problems found all around the globe. Haina, Dominican Republic, has severe lead contamination as the result of battery recycling - a problem common throughout poorer countries. Linfen, China, exemplifies many Chinese cities choking on their industrial air pollution. India is represented by a nasty example of serious groundwater pollution by heavy metals.

"This report's purpose is to highlight significant problem sites, and show that something can be done to begin to fix them," the report states.

The organization will circulate the report extensively to development agencies and local governments, working to place clean-up on the policy agenda in their respective countries and to initiate fundraising to help these regions, said Fuller.

A Death Sentence

"Living in a town with serious pollution is like living under a death sentence. If the damage does not come from immediate poisoning, then cancers, lung infections, mental retardation, are likely outcomes," the report states.

"There are some towns where life expectancy approaches medieval rates, where birth defects are the norm not the exception. In other places children's asthma rates are measured above 90 percent, or mental retardation is endemic," the report continues. "In these places, life expectancy may be half that of the richest nations. The great suffering of these communities compounds the tragedy of so few years on earth."

Restoring the Land

The report observes that "there are potential remedies for these sites. Problems like this have been solved over the years in the developed world, and we have the capacity and the technology to spread our experience to our afflicted neighbors."

"The most important thing is to achieve some practical progress in dealing with these polluted places," says Dave Hanrahan, Blacksmith Institute's chief of global operations. "There is a lot of good work being done in understanding the problems and in identifying possible approaches. Our goal is to instill a sense of urgency about tackling these priority sites."

"The good news is we have known technologies and proven strategies for eliminating a lot of this pollution," says Fuller. "Our experience shows that when you bring together governmental agencies, technical expertise, funding resources and local champions you can make a real and measurable difference. The challenge is to generate the will and commitment to deal with the problems - this is where Blacksmith's interventions can catalyze action."

"This initial Worst-Polluted Places list is a starting point," says Hanrahan. "We are looking to the international community and local specialists for feedback on the selection process on our list. We want to make sure that the key dangerously polluted sites get the needed attention and support from the international community in order to remediate them."

About Blacksmith Institute

Blacksmith Institute works around the globe to identify dangerously polluted sites and initiate their clean up, using its Polluted Places methodology to focus efforts on the most productive interventions. For the biggest polluted areas, Blacksmith works with local partners, including environmental authorities, to identify large-scale interventions for potential funding by international agencies. Since 1999 Blacksmith Institute has completed 22 projects in 6 countries and is currently engaged in 42 projects in 12 countries.  (Update--As of 2011, Blacksmith Institute has completed over 50 projects  and is currently engaged in 30 projects in 15 countries.)

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[Note to Editors: Photos are available by contacting Meredith Block +1-646-742-0200.]