Humans are dirty. And in some places, we've polluted so horribly that we've knocked decades off our own disease-ridden life expectancies. Environmental groups Green Cross Switzerland and Blacksmith Institute have picked the most polluted places in the world, and their latest list spans from South America to Siberia. In unranked order, here are five of the most polluted places you'll never want to go.
You are to blame for the atrocity that is Agbogbloshie. As the second-largest e-waste processing area in West Africa, this Ghanian city imports over 215,000 tons of electronics every year, from refrigerators to televisions.
While salvaging and recycling make economic sense, loose regulation and cut corners make methods malicious. Most machines are simply burned, resulting in toxic materials permeating the air, soil, and water of Agbogbloshie.
Twenty-eight years ago, Chernobyl gained international infamy when a local nuclear power plant melted, releasing more than 100 times the radiation felt by atomic bomb victims in Japan.
Risks remain today. Even beyond the 19-mile exclusion zone, radiation remains "well above" recommended levels. Anywhere between five and 10 million people are at risk, and research suggests that the meltdown has caused around 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer .
If you like the smell of leather, visit Hazaribagh – and then immediately leave. The Dhaka suburb's 250 registered tanneries dump 22,000 cubic liters of toxic waste into its main river (and water supply) every single day. While Harazibagh residents may be slowly dying from carcinogenic toxins, they are also faced with daily issues of skin and respiratory diseases, acid burns, dizziness, and nausea . If you don't feel like pushing production problems on poor nations, it might be high time to check your leather jacket for the telltale "Made in Bangladesh" tag.
Matanza Riachuelo, Argentina
15,000 industries pour pollution into the Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin as it winds its way through Buenos Aires. Chemical manufacturers alone account for more than a third of the pollution, pushing a killer cocktail of zinc, lead, copper, nickel, and chromium into the riverbed.
The homes of around 12,000 local residents have been deemed "unsuitable for human habitation," but neither that nor the fact that 20,000 people have an 8-in-10 chance of drinking unsafe well water will change the fact that its impoverished citizens are here to stay. For now, at least, the people of Matanza-Riachuelo residents will continue so suffer from diarrhea, respiratory diseases, and cancer .
Niger River Delta, Nigeria
Big Oil has taken its toll in Nigeria. Since the late 1950's, energy companies have headed to the Niger River Delta to extract its "black gold." And while no one likes wasted oil, the area has seen 7,000 oil spills between 1976 and 2001 where the majority of oil was never cleaned up. Estimates put annual spills at 240,000 barrels of crude oil.
That might seem like peanuts compared to the 2 million barrels extracted every day, but oil adds up. Two-thirds of the delta is polluted, with oil seeping its way into the water, air, and food systems of local Nigerians. One study suggests that oil has contributed to a 60% drop in household food security, as well as 24% spike in child undernutrition .
Living on the outskirts won't help much, either. Studies consistently found high copper and nickel concentrations in soil covering a 40-mile radius around the city. That means city slickers and surbanites alike suffer from respiratory diseases and cancer, and children are 50% more likely to get sick than those from other districts .
The List Goes On
Unfortunately, this list is only half of Blacksmith's picks. If you want to feel even worse about the world, you can click here for the other five polluted places.
But while the Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland have sourced the worst of the worst, they've also included examples of the ways in which we're slowly saving these spots.
Help can be as simple as introducing hand wire-stripping tools at the Agbogbloshie dumpsite , or as complicated as a billion dollar World Bank project addressing sanitation and pollution reduction on the riverbanks of Matanza Riachuelo. But easy or difficult, humanity is slowly doing its part to clean up the mess we've created.
Your Money Can Clean The World
When you put your money in a savings account, banks can invest those funds anywhere in the world – and with anyone. Unfortunately, that can sometimes mean your piggy bank is funding polluting practices in the world's most fragile environments. The simplest way to go green is to choose your own clean investments – and if you invest wisely, you'll even be rewarded with substantial profits. In our brand-new special report, "Your Essential Guide to Start Investing Today," The Motley Fool's personal finance experts show you why investing is so important and what you need to do to get started. Click here to get your copy today -- it's absolutely free.