Soviet legacy dominates world’s ‘most polluted list’

A US environmental group has mapped out the world's 10 most polluted places, and found half of them to be in the former Soviet Union, where chemical and radioactive pollution from decades ago still plagues thousands.

Russia tops the list with three sites – Dzerzhinsk where 300,000 people are still affected by cold-war era chemical pollution, the far north city of Norilsk where the air is diced with heavy metals from the world’s largest smelting complex dating back to 1930, and the lead-mining town of Rudnaya Pristan in Russia’s Far East where tests have shown children’s blood lead levels of 8 to 20 times above Western health standards.

Two other sites on the Blacksmith Institute’s pollution hotspots map where Soviet legacy continues to affect thousands include Mailuu-Suu in Kyrgyzstan where a former uranium plant continues to bombard local people with radioactivity, and Chernobyl, which still figures among the most dangerous of the world’s polluted places twenty years after the 1986 disaster.

The other sites on the list are Linfen in China; Haina in the Dominican Republic; Ranipet, India; La Oroya, Peru and Kabwe, Zambia.

Richard Fuller, director of Blacksmith Institute, said that the “key criterion in the selection process was the nature of the pollutant.”

“The biggest culprits are heavy metals – such as lead, chromium and mercury – and long-lasting chemicals – such as the `Persistent Organic Pollutants’ or `POPs’,” he said.

The Institute plans to circulate the report to international development organisations and governments to help alleviate some of the catastrophic consequences of pollution exposed in the report.

“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 reads.

“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.

Dave Hanrahan, Blacksmith Institute’s chief of global operations said: “We are looking to the international community and local specialists for feedback on the selection process and 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.”

The full report can be accessed at here.

Goska Romanowicz

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