In a globalized economy, pollution affects everyone. Believe it or not, there are areas of the globe that are nearly if not completely uninhabitable due to pollution. You may or may not be skeptical as to the causes of this past year's massive floods and extended droughts, but the well-documented effects of unchecked pollution demand our attention.
The following list of some of the world's most polluted cities comes from data gathered from The Blacksmith Institute, the World Health Organization, as well as OurAmazingPlanet.com and the Environmental Protection Agency. The cities are listed in no particular order.
China is currently the world's largest producer of carbon dioxide, and its coal industry provides roughly 2/3 of the country's energy. Residents of Linfen, who choke on the dust from coal burning, may finally experience some relief if the city follows through with a plan to replace the small, polluting plants with larger, cleaner, better regulated facilities.
Since 1997, the smelter in La Oroya has generated nearly four times as much revenue as its sister plant in the U.S. while spewing 31 times as much lead into the air. Unbelievably, in spite of action by U.S. environmental groups, the plant continues to operate. More than 99% of the children in La Oroya have lead poisoning.
The heavily industrialized city of Ahvaz tops the World Health Organization's list of the most air-polluted cities on the planet, air pollution being airborne particles smaller than 10 micrometers. Three additional cities in Iran flagged in 2011 by WHO for dangerous levels of airborne pollutants include Sanadaj, Kermanshah, and Yasouj.
Remember the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the world's worst nuclear disaster to date? The 19-mile radius around the plant that melted down remains uninhabitable to this day, and residents in the vicinity and beyond continue to suffer radiation-related physical ailments. Perhaps in an effort to educate people about the dangers of nuclear power, the Ukranian government opened the area around Chernobyl to tourists in 2010. Eating locally produced food was and still is discouraged.
Air pollution in cities in low-income countries is all too common, but Gaberone, in the middle income country of Botswana, made WHO's list of ten most air-polluted cities. Veld and forest fires as well as exhaust from second-hand vehicles are the main source for air pollutants in the city.
Ludhiana is the largest city in the state of Punjab, and one of the richest. It is also the most polluted due to industry and, like Gaberone, diesel fumes from congested traffic.
Lead from a centrally located, now shut-down mine and smelter plant contaminated Kabwe's air and soil for decades. Kabwe's people suffer from the effects of lead poisoning. Thankfully, there are initiatives taking place to analyze, educate the populace about, and remedy the resulting damage, including a commitment by the World Bank to fund the removal of lead from the city's soil.
Home of the world's largest heavy metals smelting complex, the children of Norilsk, like all children in heavily polluted communities, are the most susceptible to pollution, and suffer from a variety of respiratory diseases.
Home to a former Soviet uranium plant that ran from 1946 to 1968, well over a million cubic meters of radioactive mining waste continues to sicken local residents and threaten the health of those living populated areas throughout Central Asia.
The battle between industry and environmental protection continues in Tianying, China, home of half of the lead produced in that country. Due to lax regulation of outdated technology, the toxic metal continues to poison the city's soil, water, and population, including of course its most vulnerable members, its children.
Story by Liz Nutt