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.
Citarum River, Indonesia
Water is life – but in Bandung, West Java, it can also be death. The Citarum River is incredibly important to Indonesia. It supplies as much as 80% of surface water for Jakarta's supply, irrigates 5% of the country's rice, and is the water source for around 2,000 factories.
But the nine million people who rely on this river probably shouldn't. Lead levels are 1,000 times higher than EPA standards, and aluminum, manganese, and iron concentrations are at least three times international averages.
For most of the 20th century, Russian fought to become the best chemical producer in the world – and manufacturing municipalities like Dzershinsk paid a disproportionately high price. Between 1930 and 1998, around 300,000 tons of chemical waste were improperly pushed into the ground around this city, resulting in rampant groundwater contamination.
Toxic chemicals have since made their way into the air, and cancers of the eyes, lungs, and kidneys is criminally commonplace. Russians currently enjoy a life expectancy of 75 years , but Dzershinsk women live for just 47 years. And if you're a man, you're as likely to be dead as alive by your 42nd birthday .
Lead poisoning may seem like little more than a Public Service Announcement threat from the 1950's, but the metal is as deadly as ever in Zambia's second-largest city. For most the 20th century, nearby mines and smelters spewed out toxic air particles. And while the mine has been shut down for around fifteen years, children in Kabwe consistently have five to ten times the recommended level of lead in their blood. In some extreme cases, examiners found children with concentrations of 200 ug/dL – anything over 120 can be deadly.
Indonesia unfortunately snags two spots on this top ten list. Gold mining on Borneo island may have made some of Kalimantan's residents rich, but the majority have been left with little more than a wealth of mercury. The metal is a crucial ingredient to inexpensively extract gold, making it a favorite among local miners.
While the global community remains alarmed at the international impact that 1,000 tons of released mercury has on our world, the worst problems hit closer to home. Individual miners will often smelt in the comfort of their own home, contaminating themselves and their families with vapor concentrations .
Everyone likes to boast about their hometown, but "world's largest heavy metals smelting complex" isn't exactly a bragging point for Norilsk residents. But with nothing for thousands of miles in any direction from this arctic outpost, smelting is simply what they've been doing since the 1930's.
While Norilsk citizens don't have it as bad as their Dzershinsk "neighbors," industrial exhaust knocks ten years off the lives of its factory workers. The city spews out around 1,000 tons of copper and nickel oxides, as well as 2 million tons of sulfur dioxide every year.
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.
Indonesia has a $3.5 billion plan to clean up the Citarum , Dzerzhinsk is closing down outdated factories , and the World Bank and Nordic Development Fund have pushed $26 million into lead remediation programs in Zambia .]
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