MAC: Mines and Communities

The world's worst places

Published by MAC on 2006-10-21

The world's worst places

21st October 2006


The the smelter in Planting World's trees reads: Luis by one week. MAC)* Mining and metals processing are by far the world's worst polluters, according to a new global study.

The highly-respected Blacksmith Institute funds a large number of initiatives around the world, designed to ameliorate places affected by the "world's worst" industrial pollution.

Last week it published a list of the ten most damaging or potentially damaging of such, chosen by Blacksmith's Technical Advisory Board (TAB) which has "over 250 years of combined experience in this field and includ[es] specialists from Johns Hopkins, Hunter College, Harvard University, IIT India, University of Idaho, Mt Sinai Hospital, and leaders of major international environmental remediation companies " The Board selected cases according to: size of the affected population; severity of the toxin or toxins involved; impact on children's health and development; evidence of a clear pathway of contamination; existing and reliable evidence of health impact.

It's a bold initiative and could be criticised for over-dependence on "guesstimation" rather than solid scientific evidence in some of the appalling cases it covers. However, Blacksmith freely admits a bias in making its final choices,"towards including point source and legacy issues and with a desire to include representative sites for certain types of pollution, and sites that document the global span of such problems." In any event, we might well ask where more compelling scientific data could be found since, in many instances, regulatory authorities keep inadequate records and offending companies suppress medical evidence. Also there are often discrepancies between various authorities over definitions of "safe levels" of exposure. .

Thus, Blacksmith has selected sites as "representative of the scope and scale of the problem" refraining from "pointing a finger at one place ...saying that this is the worst on earth. Nor are the examples" by [any] means isolated or unique...Being on the final list of ten is bad enough."

The Metals curse

What stands out head and shoulders above other data presented by Blacksmith is the huge toll - especially on children - wreaked by mines, metallic processing/wastes, and coal burning.

Such point sources are the prime culprits for NO LESS THAN EIGHT OF THE SELECTED TEN "WORLD'S WORST" POLLUTERS .

Five of the sites examined in the study are already closed: the Haina lead smelter in the Dominican Republic; Kabwe lead operations in Zambia; uranium mines and mills in Kyrgyzstan; the Rudnaya Pristan lead works in Russia; and a tanneries complex at Ranipet, India, which disposes of chromium and chromate wastes - 1.5 million (sic) tonnes of it abandoned at just one site in Tamil Nadu.

The toxic legacy of these shut-down sites is nonetheless very severe; some of them, it's clear, are defying the capacities of current clean-up technology. (Also, in at least one case, that of Kabwe, toxic disharges have recently been identified as continuing into the region's main river from a copper tailings leach plant operated by UK-listed Vedanta Reources' KCM operations) [See "Zambia: lead poisoning concern in mining town"].

The other three felons continue to offend: the Norilsk complex in Russia; Doe Run's La Oroya smelter in Peru; and authorities in China's Shanxi province backing a complex of coal mines, coal-fired power plants, steel and tar plants.

Damned (or damning?) statistics

A cursory peruals of the data may seem to suggest it's lead mining, refining and usage that is currently the worst single threat to life and health on this planet. This would be a major error: failing to take into account the impacts of a wide range of other heavy metals, some of which may be deadlier in the short run (eg. mercury and arsenic), or likely to affect far more citizens in the longer-term . For example, the Institute estimates that three and a half million people are, or will be, damaged by leakages of hexavalent chromium and related wastes, dumped in Ranipet, at the present rate of removal (or lack of it). And lung cancer resulting from exposure to hexavalent chromium may take years to develop; lead poisoning can strike far more swiflty.

Arguably it's more pertinent to focus on the geographical "hot spots" identified in this report, asking what measures should be taken now, to prevent even more harm being done. This is where a simplistic presentation of casualty figures can mislead. From the data on mining/minerals, supplied in Blacksmith's full list of 35 cases, India ranks worst ( with over 3 million people suffering or at risk), followed by Russia (with nearly three million) - which is scarcely surprising. But the Philippines (200,000) and Zambia (250,000) outrank China (200,000), while the potential number of sufferers from a failure to clean up Kyrgyzstan's uranium tailings could, says Blacksmith, range from 23,000 to "millions". Moreover, 150,000 citizens of Romania are recknoned to be suffering from the impacts of just two operations: the Baie Marie tailings disaster of 2000 and an old smelter; while nearly one percent of those in the Dominican Republic (population around 9 million) are victims of another single smelter.

Most of us can come up with examples to match these, and extractive industries with a far higher rate of health attrition. There's a danger that, by picking a few examples of a global phenomenon in mainly urbanised zones, we might grossly underestimate the death toll for millions more, trying to survive in more isolated and outlying areas. The most damaging big metal refineries and smelters tend to be constructed in, or close, to towns and cities - for obvious reasons (better access to electricity, roads, ports, traders). But thousands of mines and smallscale processing plants litter forest and smoke out villages (such as India's many unregulated sponge iron smelters), hug railway lines (remember the string of charcoal burners which fed CVRD's Grande Carajas iron and steel plants?,) and snake their way inexorably through valleys and down rivers. And the death toll from silicosis among stone quarryers and gold miners, or pneumocionis registered by deep coal miners, outstrips that from Chernobyl and all abandoned uranium dumps put together - appalling though that undoubtedly is.

Nonetheless, this alarming rollcall should concentrate our minds on the human and environmental costs of our continued dependency on the "liberation" of heavy metals (including uranium) from rock, and the apparently hopeless task of finding the means and the money to neutralise their global toxic toll.

[Commentary by Nostromo Research, London, October 21 2006]

(If you want to propose further sites for the Blacksmith Institute's "World Worst 2007" they're waiting to hear from you:

Blacksmith Institute: WORLD'S WORST: Full List 2006

[In alphabetical order]

MAYAK and Lake Karachay, CHELYABINSK Russia


Potential population affected: 200,000

Type of pollutants: Fly-ash, carbon monoxide, Nitrogen oxides, PM-2.5, PM-10, Sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, arsenic, lead.

Site Description : When asked to comment on the environmental conditions of Linfen, one environmental expert quipped, "If you have a grudge against someone, let this guy become a permanent citizen of Linfen! Why? For punishment!" Shanxi Province is considered to be the heart of China's enormous and expanding coal industry, providing about two thirds of the nation's energy. Within it, Linfen has been identified as one of Shanxi's most polluted cities with residents claiming that they literally choke on coal dust in the evenings, according to a BBC report.

China's urgent need for coal has led to the development of hundreds of often illegal and unregulated coal mines, steel factories and tar refineries which have diverted water and parched the land making farming in the province nearly impossible. Water is so tightly rationed that even the provincial capital receives water for only a few hours each day.

The Annual Report on Environmental Management and Comprehensive Improvement in Key Cities for Environmental Protection in 2003, by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), indicated that Linfen is the city with the worst air quality in China.

The high levels of pollution are taking a serious toll on the health of the Linfen's inhabitants. Local clinics are seeing growing cases of bronchitis, pneumonia, and lung cancer. Lead poisoning was also seen at very high rates in Chinese children in the Shanxi Province. One resident was quoted in the BBC report claiming, "I feel like my throat is very dry, and the stuff coming out of my lungs is black." The severity of the air pollution in the cities of Shanxi is indicated by the fact that the levels of SO2 and other particulates in the air exceed many times over the standards set by the World Health Organization. A growing number of resident deaths in recent years have been directly linked to this intense pollution.

Another epidemic found in this province is Arsenicosis, an environmental chemical disease caused by drinking elevated concentrations of arsenic found in water. Chronic exposure to this toxic chemical result in skin lesions, peripheral vascular disease, hypertension, blackfoot disease, and high risk of cancers. One study of Shanxi's well water published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, found the rate of unsafe well water in the province to be 52% -- an alarming statistic. Worrying data such as this has caused the Chinese government to openly admit that one in five of its citizens lack safe drinking water.

Compounding the pollution problem is the city's economic dependence on the coal, steel, and tar industries as well as China's need for these resources in keeping with its rapidly growing economy. As with many environmental problems in China, strong resistance from business interests and corrupt officials has made improvement difficult to imagine in a short timeframe.

Cleanup Activity: Information on progress towards cleanup in this area is not currently readily available.

Note: Linfen acts in the Top Ten as an example of highly polluted cities in China. In terms of air quality, the World Bank has been quoted as estimating that 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world were in China.


China Internet Information Center. "Rivers Run Black in Shanxi Province." China Daily (2006) July 17, 2006.

Qin Jize. "Most polluted cities in China blacklisted." China Daily. (2004) July 15.

"The Most Polluted City in the World: Sixteen of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China." The Epoch times. (2006) June 10, 2006. (refers to air pollution and particulates)

"Environmental quality stable in general: report." People's Daily Online (2004) July 14, 2004.

Y. F. Li, Y. J. Zhang, G. L. Cao. "Distribution of seasonal SO2 emissions from fuel combustion and industrial activities in the Shanxi province." Atmospheric Environment (Oxford, England) (Jan. '99) 33 no2 p. 257

G. Sun. "Arsenic contamination and arsenicosis in China." Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. (2004) 198 268-271.

S-g Wang, J-l Zhang. "Blood lead levels of children in China". Environmental Sciences and Pollution Mgmt. (2004) 21(6) 355-360.

Mary Kay Magistad "Land of Pollution." The World. (2006) July 17, 2006.

Kristin Aunan, Jinghua Fang, Haakon Vennemo, Kenneth Oye, Hans M. Seip. "Co-benefits of climate policy-lessons learned from a study in Shanxi, China." Energy Policy. (2004) 32(4) 567-581


Potentially affected people: 250,000

Type of pollutants: Lead, cadmium

Site description: Kabwe, the second largest city in Zambia is located about 150 kilometers north of the nation's capital, Lusaka. On average, children's' blood levels in Kabwe are 5 to 10 times the allowable EPA maximum. It is one of six towns situated around the Copperbelt, once Zambia's thriving industrial base. In 1902, rich deposits of lead were discovered here. Ore veins with lead concentrations as high as 20 percent have been mined deep into the earth and a smelting operation was set up to process the ore. Rich deposits of sulphide ore consisted of silicates, oxides and carbonates of lead, which averaged 34% in lead concentration. Mining and smelting operations were running almost continuously up until 1994 without the government addressing the potential danger of lead. This smelting process was unregulated during this period and these smelters released heavy metals in dust particles, which settled on the ground in the surrounding area. The mine and smelter is no longer operating but has left a city poisoned from debilitating concentrations of lead in the soil and water from slag heaps that were left as reminders to the smelting and mining era. Some of the lead concentrations in soil have been recorded at 2400 mg/kg. In one study, the dispersal in soils of lead, cadmium, copper, and zinc extended to over a 20 km circumference from the smelting and mining processes. The soil contamination levels of all four metals are higher than those recommended by the World Health Organization.

In the U.S., permissible blood levels of lead are less than10 mcg/dl. Symptoms of acute poisoning occur at blood levels of 20 and above, resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, and leading to muscle spasms and kidney damage. Levels of over ten are considered unhealthy and levels in excess of 120 can often lead to death. In some neighborhoods in Kabwe, blood concentrations of 200 or more micrograms/deciliter have been recorded in children and records show average blood levels of children range between 50 and 100 mcg/dl. Children who play in the soil and young men who scavenge the mines for scraps of metal are most susceptible to lead produced by the mine and smelter. A small waterway runs from the mine to the center of town and had been used to carry waste from the once active smelter. There is no restriction to the waterway, and in some instances local children use it for bathing. In addition to water, dry and dusty backyards of workers' houses are a significant source of contamination for the locals. One of the most common ways that workers and residents become exposed to toxic levels of lead is through inhalation of contaminated soil ingested into the lungs.

Cleanup Activity: After decades of contamination, the clean-up strategy for Kabwe is complex and in its primary stages. The first step is to educate the community about the risks of lead poisoning and their susceptibility to the pollutant. Precautionary measures have been taken in order to educate the population about the problem and to provide simple, concrete advice to avoid poison (such as to prohibit children from playing in the dirt and to rinse dust from plates and food etc.). Some areas of Kabwe require drastic remediation in which some entire neighborhoods may need to relocate.

Blacksmith has helped Kabwe's environment by establishing a local NGO, Kabwe Environmental and Rehabilitation Foundation (KERF) whose role is to bring educational services into each community with nursing support and expertise to locals as well. As a result of Blacksmith's local initiatives and involvement, the World Bank has stepped in. The Bank approved a $20 million grant to clean up the city and has just completed the scoping study that will lead to initial clean-up activity beginning in 2007.


"The Silent Death Lead Poisoning in Kabwe, Zambia" Blacksmith Institute. 2001.

Penny Dale. "Zambia's child poisoning tragedy" BBC, Nov. 6, 2003.

B. Leteinturier, J. Laroche, J. Matera, and F. Malaisse. "Reclamation of lead/zinc processing wastes at Kabwe, Zambia: a phytogeochemical approach." South Africaln Journal of Science 97 Nov/Dec (2001) 624-627.

B. D. Tembo, K Sichilongo, J. Cernak. "Distribution of copper, lead, cadmium, and zinc concentrations in soils around Kabwe town in Zambia." Chemosphere (2006) 63 497-501.



Potentially affected people: 134,000

Type of pollutants: Air pollution - particulates including Strontium-90, Caesium-137, Sulfur dioxide, heavy metals (nickel, copper, cobalt, lead, selenium), particulates, nitrogen and carbon oxides, phenols, hydrogen sulfide.

Site description: An industrial city founded in 1935 as a slave labor camp, the Siberian city of Norilsk, Russia is the northernmost major city of Russia and the second largest city (after Murmansk) above the Arctic Circle. According to the Mines and Communities website the city is considered one of the most polluted places in Russia - where the snow is black, the air tastes of sulfur and the life expectancy for factory workers is 10 years below the Russian average. This city houses the world's largest heavy metals smelting complex, and over 4 million tons annually of cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, arsenic, selenium and zinc are dispersed into the air. Mining and smelting operation started in the 1930s, and is the worlds largest nickel producer. Norilsk Nickel, a recently privatized firm, is one of Russia's leading producers of non-ferrous and platinum-group metals. It controls one-third of the world's nickel deposits and accounts for a substantial portion of the country's total production of nickel, cobalt, platinum, and palladium. It is also a major polluter, ranking first among Russian industrial enterprises in terms of air pollution.

Due to the geographic location, reports on ecological impacts and contamination are infrequent from this location. In 1999, a report found elevated copper and nickel concentrations in soils up to a 60 km radius. The city population has been affected by air quality in this region of smelters, where it has been shown over half of all samples exceed the maximum allowable concentrations for both copper and nickel. A report in 1995 indicated that high levels of respiratory diseases have been observed in children around this area, and that these are most likely related to the air pollution from the smelter activity.

Investigations evaluating the presence of ear, nose and throat disease among schoolchildren revealed that children living near the copper plant were twice as likely to become ill than those living in further districts. Similarly, children living near the nickel plant were shown to become ill at a rate 1.5 times higher than children from further districts. Analysis also showed that problems during the last half of pregnancy as well as premature births were much more frequent in Norilsk than in the Taimyr and Kransnoyark regions. Furthermore, mortality from respiratory diseases is considerably higher than the average in Russia, which is 28/1000 or 15.8% of all deaths among children.

Since November 2001, Norilsk has been shut to foreigners, one of 90 "closed towns" in Russia where Soviet-levels of secrecy persist.

Cleanup Activity

Many groups, some supported by international donors, have tried to address the problems. In the 1980's emission reductions were tried by building dust and gas removal facilities, and also electrostatic precipitators and liquid phase sulfur removals. These technologies aided in sulfate reduction, but studies proved that damage to forests and concentrations of metals remained a significant problem to date.


S. M. Allen-Gil, J. Ford, B. K. Lasorsa, M. Monetti, et al. "Heavy metal contamination in the Taimyr Peninsula, Siberian Arctic". The Science of the Total Environment 301 (2003) 119-138.

J. M. Blais, K. E. Duff, T.E. Laing, J.P. Smol. "Regional contamination in lakes from the Noril'sk region in Siberia, Russia". Water Air Soil Pollut. (1999) 110 (3-4) 389-404.

O.N. Zubareva, L. N. Skripal'shchikova, N. V. Greshilova, and V. I. Kharuk. "Zoning of landscapes exposed to technogenic emissions from the Norilsk Mining and Smeltering works". Russian Journal of Ecology (2003) 34 (6) 375-380.

B. A. Revich. "Public health and ambient air pollution in Arctic and Subarctic cities of Russia". The Science of the Total Environment. (1995). 160/161 585-592.

Mines And Communities Website. "Hell on Earth." April 18, 2003.


Potentially affected people: 85,000

Type of pollutants: Lead.

Lead Emissions from Smelter

Site description: This highly populated area known as Bajos de Haina is severely contaminated with lead from a closed down automobile battery recycling smelter. The Dominican Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, since its creation in 2000, has identified Haina as a national hotspot of significant concern. Various studies have found alarming lead levels in the Haina community, with blood and soil levels several orders of magnitude over regular limits. The contamination is caused by the past industrial operations of the nearby Metaloxa battery plant. Although the company has moved to a new site (which is contaminating a new neighborhood, albeit less populous), the contamination still remains.

The most common symptom of Haina's pollution is lead poisoning, which affects children's health and development. Kaul tested children near the auto battery recycling plant in Haina. When the plant closed in March 1997, 116 children were surveyed, and again in August 1997, 146 children were surveyed. Mean blood lead concentrations were 71 µg/dL (range: 9-234 µg/dL) in March and 32 µg/dL (range: 6-130 µg/dL) in August. The study revealed that at least 28% of the children required immediate treatment and that 5% had lead levels >79 µg/dL. Only 9% of these children were under the WHO recommended 9 µg/dL for maximum concentration. The children were also at risk for severe neurologic consequences at the time of the study.

Another study released by the Chemical Institute of Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) found lead levels in inhabitants over 100 parts per million (ppm), whereas "normal" levels in children are considered to be 10 ppm and for adults 20 ppm. Birth deformities, eye damage, learning and personality disorders, and in some cases, death from lead poisoning have also been reported at a higher than normal rate due to contamination caused by the past operations of the battery plant.

Cleanup Activity: In early planning stages, with Blacksmith Institute advice and support.


Note: This site is included in the Top Ten as an example of lead battery re-processing facilities. These factories can be found in many major third world cities, and often leave a legacy of lead poisoning in their host communities. Haina is the most severely polluted site of this kind known to Blacksmith Institute.

J. Caravanos, R. Fuller. "Polluted Places-Initial Site Assessment". Blacksmith Institute. (2006) February 22.

B. Kaul, R. S. Sandhu, C Depratt, and F Reyes. "Follow-up screening of lead-poisoned children near an auto battery recycling plant, Haina, Dominican Republic". Environmental Health Perspectives. (1999). 107 (11)

"Industrial Waste Minimization in the low Haina River Basin" IWCAM/2nd%20Steering%20Cmttee%20Meeting/Dominican%20Republic%20Demo%20Submission%20040130.doc


Potentially affected people: 35,000

Type of pollutants: Lead, copper, zinc, and sulfur dioxide.

Site description: Since 1922, adults and children in La Oroya, Peru - a mining town in the Peruvian Andes and the site of a poly-metallic smelter - have been exposed to the toxic emissions from the plant. Currently owned by the Missouri-based Doe Run Corporation, the plant is largely responsible for the dangerously high blood lead levels found in the children of this community. Ninety-nine percent of children living in and around La Oroya have blood lead levels that exceed acceptable amounts, according to studies carried out by the Director General of Environmental Health in Peru in 1999. Lead poisoning is known to be particularly harmful to the mental development of children. A survey conducted by the Peruvian Ministry of Health in 1999 revealed blood lead levels among local children to be dangerously high, averaging 33.6 micrograms/deciliter for children between the ages 6 months to ten years, triple the WHO limit of 10 micrograms/deciliter.

Sulfur dioxide concentrations also exceed the World Health Organization emissions standards by ten fold. The vegetation in the surrounding area has been destroyed by acid rain due to high sulfur dioxide emissions. To date, the extent of soil contamination has not been studied and no plan for reduction of emissions has been agreed or implemented.

Numerous studies have been carried out to assess the levels and sources of lead and other metals still being deposited in La Oroya. Limited testing has revealed lead, arsenic and cadmium soil contamination throughout the town. However, all of these studies were focused on outdoor contamination and suspected severe indoor air pollution has not yet been assessed in detail..

Cleanup Activity

Peru's Clean Air Act cites La Oroya in a list of Peruvian towns suffering critical levels of air pollution, but action to clean up and curtail this pollution has been delayed for the 35,000 inhabitants. In 2004, Doe Run Corporation asked the government for a four year extension to the plants environmental management plan. A concerted NGO movement is now underway to pressure the company and the government to develop effective strategies for implementation of site remediation agreements and to provide health care for affected residents.


"Development of an integrated intervention plan to reduce exposure to lead and other contaminants in the mining center of La Oroya, Peru". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Environmental Health/ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Division of Emergency and Environmental Health Services. (2005)

"Crisis Deepens in La Oroya" Oxfam America. (2004) December 20.


Potentially affected people: 3,500,000

Type of pollutants: Tannery waste, containing hexavalent chromium and azodyes

Site description: Ranipet is located about 100 miles upstream from Chennai, the fourth largest urban area in India. Although Ranipet is a medium sized town, its problems also pose a potential risk to the population of the nearby city of Vellore. A factory in Ranipet manufactures sodium chromate, chromium salts and basic chromium sulfate tanning powder used locally in the leather tanning process. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TN PCB) estimates that about 1,500,000 tons of solid wastes accumulated over two decades of plant operation are stacked in an open yard (three to five meters high and on 2 hectares of land) on the facility premises and contaminating the groundwater.

The contamination of the soil and groundwater with wastewater, as well as run off from solid wastes has affected the health, resources, and livelihood of thousands of people. In a residential colony about 1 kilometer from the factory. Three open wells, a dozen bore wells and about 25 public hand pumps have been abandoned due to high chromium levels in the water. Agricultural land about a kilometer from the factory has also been affected. There is widespread fear that if this pollution is left unchecked, the Palar basin, the main drinking water source in the region, could also be contaminated. Indian farmers who have the misfortune of cultivating this toxic land claim that the toxic waste from the nearby tanneries degrades the fertility of the land citing that " invariably, only one in five crops does well." Farmers also complain of the foul smells which emanate from the very water they use to irrigate their fields claiming that, "when we come in contact with the water we get ulcerations on our skins and it stings like an insect bite."

Cleanup Activity: In 1996 the government shut down Tamil Nadu Chromates & Chemicals Limited (TCC), the factory responsible for an estimated 1.5 million tons of untreated chromate sludge. In May 2005 Blacksmith Institute visited this site. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board authorities have assigned the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to design and implement remediation plans to cleanup this site.

An effective solution to tackle the issue of chromate leaching from the legacy site would be to encapsulate the waste dumpsite to prevent further leaching and treating the subsurface soil of the channel-flows.


"Polluted Places" Blacksmith Institute.

"Polluted Places: India Initial site assessment and photos" . Asian Development Bank ADB (2006)


Potentially affected people: 90,000

Type of pollutants: Lead, cadmium, mercury, antimony

Site description: Dalnegorsk and Rudnaya Pristan are two towns in the Russian Far East whose residents suffer from serious lead poisoning from an old smelter and the unsafe transport of lead concentrate from the local lead mining site. According to the most recent study, lead concentrations in residential gardens (476-4310 mg/kg, Gmean=1626 mg/kg) and in roadside soils (2020-22900 mg/kg, Gmean=4420 mg/kg) exceed USEPA guidance for remediation by orders of magnitude. These data suggest that drinking water, interior dust, and garden crops also likely contain dangerous levels of lead. Water discharged from the smelter averages 2900 m3/day with concentrations up to 100 kg of lead and 20 kg arsenic.

Limited initial testing has revealed that children's blood lead levels are 8 to 20 times the maximum allowable U.S. levels. Preliminary biokinetic estimates of mean blood levels suggest that preschool children are at significant risk of lead poisoning from soil/dust ingestion with levels predicted to average 13-27 microg/dl. Annual air emissions found 85 tons of particulate matter with lead and arsenic concentrations being 50 and 0.5 tons, respectively.

Since 1930 there has not been any attempt to address associated health concerns by either an educational or a technical environmental program. In fact, as Sharov points out, the residents of the area were simply left to deal with their health risk problems on their own and are largely unaware of the risks. Furthermore, some residents in Rudnaya use old casings of submarine batteries that were recycled by the smelter in order to collect precipitation for watering their gardens.

Cleanup Activity

The lead smelter has now been voluntarily shut down, after Blacksmith presented the owner with data on the health risks to children of lead contamination. In addition, children's blood lead levels are being tested, and those with elevated levels are being treated with Blacksmith funding. This funding has also supported a program of education to all residents, and local education and testing through the community is ongoing. Next, a plan to remediate the worst of the contamination needs to be drawn up and implemented.


M. C. Von Braun, I. H. von Lindern, N. K. Khristoforova, and et a. "Environmental lead contamination in the Rudnaya Pristan--Dalnegorsk mining and smelter district, Russian far East". Environmental Research Section A (2002) 88, 164-173.
A. N. Kachur, V. S. Arzhanova, P. V. Yelpatyevsky, M. C. von Braun, and I.H. von Lindern. "Environmental conditions in the Rudnaya River watershed--a compilation of Soviet and post-Soviet era sampling around a lead smelter in the Russian Far East". The Science of The Total Environment (2003) 303:1-2 171-185 P.O. Sharov, Lead Contamination of Environment in Rudnaya Pristan, Russia and associated Health Risks. Far Eastern Health Fund. Vladivostok Dalnauka, 2005.


Potentially affected people: 23,000 immediate, millions potentially Type of pollutants: Radioactive uranium mine tailings. Gamma radiation from the dumps measures in between 100-600 micro-roentgens per hour. Heavy metals, and cyanides.

Site description: There are twenty-three tailing dumps and thirteen waste rock dumps scattered throughout Mailuu-Suu, home to a former Soviet uranium plant. From 1946-1968 the plant produced and processed more than 10,000 metric tons of uranium ore, products which were eventually used to produce the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb. What remains now are not atomic bombs, but 1.96 million cubic meters of radioactive mining waste that threatens the entire Ferghana valley, one of the most fertile and densely populated area in Central Asia.

Due to the high rates of seismic activity in the area, millions of people in Central Asia are potentially at risk from a failure of the waste containment. Natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, and mudflows, all have the potential to exacerbate problems associated with the location and mismanagement of these tailing piles. It is feared that a landslide could disturb one of the dumps and either expose radioactive material within the core of the enormous waste piles or push part of them into nearby rivers. This fear that was nearly realized in May of 2002 when a huge mudslide blocked the course of the Mailuu-Suu river and threatened to submerge another waste site. In April of this year the Obschestvenny Reiting newspaper reported that about 300,000 cubic meters of material fell into the Mailuu-Suu River near the uranium mine tailings, the result of yet another landslide. Events such as these could potentially contaminate water drunk by hundreds of thousands of people in the Ferghana Valley, shared by Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The poor design and management of the waste areas also allows transfer of some material from these piles to surrounding areas by runoff. Research has found some groups getting very high doses of radon probably due to use of this runoff water in agricultural practices. Risk analyses have also been conducted to assess the radioactive contamination that could occur with more natural disasters, and have found these could lead to potential large-scale environmental contamination. A 1999 study conducted by the Institute of Oncology and Radioecology showed that twice as many residents suffered from some form of cancer than in the rest of the country.

Cleanup Activity: The World Bank has begun a project for Kyrgyzstan to "minimize the exposure of humans, livestock, and riverine flora and fauna to radionuclide associated with abandoned uranium mine tailings and waste rock dumps in the Mailuu-Suu area". The project includes uranium mining wastes isolation and protection, improvement to the national system for disaster management, preparedness and response and the establishment of real-time monitoring and warning systems, seismic stations and sensors. The total cost of the project is 11.76 million U.S. dollars, of which 6.9 million dollars will be provided by the bank's International Development Association, an institution that gives aid to the world's poorest countries.

INFORMATION IRIN News Org. "KYRGYZSTAN: Landslide close to Mailuu-Suu uranium dump". UN Office for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. (2005) April 14.

IRIN News Org. "KYRGYZSTAN: Mailuu-Suu closely monitored following recent landslide." UN Office for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. (2005) May.

Sarah MacGregor. "Finding a Solution for Uranium Waste in Kyrgyzstan." OSCE. (2004) February 4.

Environment News Service (ENS). "Kyrgyz Republic Funded to Secure Uranium Waste Dumps" Mines and Communities Website. (2004). June 17.

M. Kozlova. "Worries Fester over radioactive tailings". Asia Water Wire.

"Safety of Uranium Dumps in Kirghizia Calls For Attention of International Community" Pravada (2003) April 21.

Nurlan Djenchuraev. Current Environmental issues associated with mining wastes in Kyrgyzstan. Master of science. Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy of Central European University. (1999).

I. A. Vasiliev, D. S. Barber, V. M. Alekhina, et al. "Uranium levels in the Naryn and MAiluu-Suu rivers of Kyrgyz Republic". Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry. (2005) 263 207-212.

H. Vandenhove, L. Sweeck, D. Mallants, et al. "Assessment of radiation exposure in the uranium mining and milling area of Mailuu Suu, Kyrgyzstan". Journal of Environmental Radioactivity (2006) 88 118-139.

Appendix 1: Some of the Nominations that Did Not Make the Top Ten


Potentially affected people: 1.3 million

Type of pollutants: Radioactive and nuclear wastes

Site description: Kola Peninsula lies in far northwestern Russian Federation, between the Barents Sea and the White Sea. Administratively, it forms part of Murmansk oblast (region). The strategic importance of the peninsula led to the proliferation of military bases here during the Cold War. The major port of the region is Murmansk. During the Soviet period, Murmansk was a major submarine production center, and remains a chief naval headquarters in modern Russia. Currently there are 70 decommissioned nuclear submarines being moored in ports along the Kola Peninsula. Considered obsolete, damaged, or banned by strategic arms reductions treaties, these submarines have been largely abandoned after being stripped of their offensive armament. They are manned by skeleton crews and hold within their poorly maintained hulls a total of nearly 30 times the amount of nuclear fuel that was in Chernobyl Reactor Number Four when it exploded in 1986.

The Kola Peninsula as a whole suffered major ecological damage, mostly as a result of pollution from the military (particularly naval) production, as well as from industrial mining of apatite. There are currently about 250 nuclear reactors produced by the Soviet military on the peninsula, which are no longer in use but still generate radiation and leak radioactive waste.

Other investigations into the radiological doses in seafood surrounding the peninsula have linked the problems to nuclear weapons testing, nuclear reprocessing discharges and the Chernobyl accident.

Cleanup Activities: In 1999, the project direction shifted and became more focused as the Russian shipyard's needs became better defined within the budgetary realities of the program. This shift inspired the creation of a Mobile Pretreatment Facility (MPF) to permit solid waste sorting, volume reduction and containerization at current storage locations on the Kola Peninsula prior to transfer to a central processing facility (CPF) for final treatment and disposal.

E Anbarasan, Rovaniemi. "Nuclear watch in the Far North". UNESCO.

Review and Implementation of Technology for Solid Radioactive Waste Volume Reduction.
Govt Reports Announcements & Index (GRA&I), Issue 20, 2003 Annual rept.

Throw Weights to Metric Tons: The Radioactive Waste Problems of Russia's Northern Fleet. Govt Reports Announcements & Index (GRA&I), Issue 16, 2000


Potentially affected people: 140,000

Type of pollutants: cyanide, copper, other heavy metals

Site Description: In January 2000, a breach in the tailings dam of the Aurul S.A. Baia Mare Company, released some 100,000 m³ of cyanide-rich tailings waste into the river system near Baia Mare in northwest Romania. This spill released an estimated 50-100 tons of cyanide, as well as heavy metals, particularly copper, into the Somes, Tisza and finally into the Danube Rivers before reaching the Black Sea. The company processes solid wastes from earlier mining activity to recover precious metals, especially gold and silver. The company started operation in May 1999, by processing an existing 30 year-old tailings dam (Meda dam) located near Baia Mare, to the west and close to the residential area. After extreme weather conditions (ice and snow on the tailing pond, high precipitation), the tailings deposited on the inner embankment became soaked. Stability was affected, causing local displacement, and this subsequently developed into breach of approximately 23 meters. The water released through the breach filled the area between the two embankments and spilled over the outer embankment. The volume of water released from the dam was estimated to be around 100,000 m3. Contamination of the Somes/Szamos stream, a tributary of the Tisza River, contamination and interruption of the drinking water in 24 locations and of 2.5 million people, massive fish-kill and destruction of aquatic species in the river systems, severe negative impact on biodiversity, the rivers' ecosystems, drinking water supply and socio-economic conditions of the local population

Cleanup Activity: Measures carried out immediately after the spill as well as currently implemented measures reflect the efforts of countries along the course of the river including, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, to achieve current EC water-resources management standards with regard to water quantity, water quality, environmental standards, drinking-water quality, flood protection, navigation, etc., as soon as possible. For this purpose these countries are currently working on an integrated Tisa River basin management plan in compliance with the EC Water Framework Directive. Nevertheless, many tasks still remain to allow implementation of recommended action and prevention measures.

P. Soldan, M. Pavonic, J. Boucek, and J. Kokes. "Baia Mare Accident-Brief Ecotoxicological Report of Czech Experts". Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety. (2001) 49, 255-261.

"Tailings Spill Accident in Baia Mare, Romania" Mineral Resources Forum. (2002). "The Cyanide spill at Baia Mare, Romania: Before, during, and after". Report by UNEP/OCHA. (2000) Feb-March. T. Cramer, S. Kistinger. "Risk and water resource management in the Tisa River basin". Wasser und Boden [Wasser Boden]. (2003) 55, (5), 33-37.


Potentially affected people: 10,000

Type of pollutants: lead, zinc, cadmium, SO2, carbon dust

Site Description: Rapid expansion of industrialization in this valley from 1950s to 1990s was focused around a major factory producing carbon black (for dyes and tyres) and a large non-ferrous metal smelter. During the Ceausescu regime, Copsa Mica was one of the unfortunate sites where high polluting industries were focused. Unfortunately, the plants did not receive adequate resources and maintenance and as they fell into dis-repair both workers and the surrounding countryside were subjected to increasing levels of toxic pollution. Lead levels in the plants were reported to have reached 1,000 times allowable national limits.

After the communist era, efforts were made to deal with the problems. In 1993, the carbon black factory was closed and UNIDO brought in international expertise to help the Government to deal with the smelter. Cutbacks in production also had the effect of reducing emissions. However, the surrounding area remains polluted with toxic metals. There is widespread lung disease, impotence, a life expectancy that is 6 years below the national average, one of the highest infant mortality rates in Europe and other neurobehavioral problems typically associated with lead poisoning.

Cleanup Activities: Efforts to date have produced significant improvements but the smelter continues to operate, hampered by lack of resources to complete the needed environmental upgrading. Between 1993 and 2001, concentrations of all major pollutants decreased significantly, however, Copsa Mica remains extremely polluted. In the Tarnava Mare river, downstream from Copsa Mica, despite the considerable decrease that was noticed over the last decade, the lead concentration remains more than twice the maximum admitted value (MAV), zinc almost ten times, cadmium is close to MAV, and copper is about half of MAV.

E. Udelhofen. "People and Pollution of Copsa Mica". Fragileecologies. (2005) July 22.


Potentially affected people: 50,000

Type of pollutants: Cyanide, heavy metals

Site Description: A breach of a waste tailings pond in August 1995 at a mine site owned by Omai Gold Mines Ltd. (OGML), allowed an estimated 3.5 million cubic meters (120 million gallons) of toxic effluent containing cyanide and copper as well as other heavy metals into the Omai and Essequibo rivers. The spill was the fourth cyanide accident at the facility in 1995. Many of the 50,000 residents upstream, fish, boat, bathe and drink water from the river. Much of the biota in the Omai River was feared to have been killed, but it was hoped that the sheer volume of water flowing into the Essequibo during the wet season might rapidly dilute the poison. However, Amerindians, traders and miners living along the riverbank reported not only dead fish but also wild hogs floating belly-up and complaints about skin rashes and blistering from using river water endured for two months after the accident. The government issued warnings to all residents downriver of the mine to cease using the river for washing, drinking and fishing.

Cleanup Activity: No current information on cleanup activity is available.

"Cyanide Disaster: The Omai Spill Continues" Saxakali Magazine V3N1. (1997).

R. S. Carson. "Cyanide River Disaster in Guyana" Albion Monitor (1995) Sept. 2.

M. Colchester. "Guyana:fragile frontier". Race and Class (1997) 38.


Potentially affected people: 50,000
Type of pollutants: Mercury and cyanide

Site Description: Mt. Diwalwal is located in the Southeastern region of the Philippines. In 1982, the discovery of gold on this mountain triggered a gold rush to an area of 729 hectares. In the opinion of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), it is the largest gold deposit in the world. An estimated $1.8 billion worth of gold reserves remain untapped in the 5,000-hectare mountain where some 30,000 small-scale miners operate, many illegally. The Naboc and Agusan rivers are grossly contaminated with mercury and cyanide from mining operations.

An op-ed item in September 2001 quoted a research finding that 86% of the miners in Diwalwal were contaminated with mercury. A study conducted by the University of Philippines and the Philippine General Hospital found 38% of the residents of Diwalwal had dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies. Another study by the Department of Health, National Poison Control Information Service and Department of Health, Environment and Occupational Health found that mercury exposure from artisanal gold mining had resulted in blood mercury levels in workers exceeding WHO standards. Health effects included poor memory, anosmia, abnormal gait and balance.

Another study found large concentrations of mercury in the Naboc River, in which was being used on the fields for irrigation. The mercury in the rice paddy soils exceeded the UK and Canadian soil quality thresholds for agricultural soils. The addition of rice, fish, mussels of the Naboc-Babag area dietary weekly sustenance averages 285 mg Methylmercury, which is over three times the recommended dietary dose.

Cleanup Activities: In 2002 the government assumed control of the mine site in an effort to manage the mining operations and better provide for the workers there. The environment department, in an effort to legitimize the operations of subsistence miners, signed service contracts, the legality of which are now being questioned.

"Illegal mining blamed for Mt. Diwalwal blast". Balita Organization. (2005) October 28

S. S. Coronel. "Misery Mountain: In Diwalwal, Davao del Norte, gold is more precious than human lives". Public Eye. (1995) Oct-Dec 1 (4).

J. D. Appleton, J. M. Weeks, JPS Calvez, C. Beinhoff. "Impacts of mercury contaminated mining waste on soil quality, crops, bivalves, and fish in the Naboc River area, Mindanao, Phillipines". Science of the Total Environment. (2006) 354 198-211.

G.S. Drasch, S Bose-O'Reilly, C. Beinhoff, G. Roider, S. Maydl. "The Mt Diwata study on the Philippines 1999-assessing mercury intoxication of the population by small scale gold mining" Science of the Total Environment. (2001) 267 (1-3) 151-168.


Potentially affected people: More than 1 million

Type of pollutants: SO2, sulfates, CO, NOx, phenol, particulates, HCl, ammonia, formaldehyde, magnesium, chlorides, phosphorus, copper, zinc, fluorides, oil products, organic pollutants, benzene, benzapyrene, chlorobenzene, cadmium, hydrocarbon tetrachloride, chloroform, hexavalent chromium, formaldehyde, nickel, vinyl chloride, polyvinyl chloride dust, benzapyrene sorbed on soot

Site description: Volgograd is a large industrial city situated on the Volga River. Active industries including oil refining, chemicals manufacturing, non-ferrous and ferrous metallurgies, coupled with pollution from transportation has rendered the air and water extremely polluted. Volgograd obtains its drinking water supplies from the Volga, which needs to be treated in order to meet health standards.

Motor vehicle exhaust accounts for 38% of all emissions, and are a major cause of environmental damage. Industrial production activities result in emissions of more than 1 million tons of toxic wastes into the atmosphere, only 18% of which are recovered and neutralized. Authorized dumps and waste disposal sites occupy 5200 hectares of land. Effluent discharge into small water bodies totals 268 million m3, including 51.6 million m3 of untreated, polluted water.

Seventy-three companies with 114 on-site water outlets where scientific investigations are carried out are currently being monitored, as are the Volga and Don rivers. Damaged land covers an area of 2800 hectares. According to medical statistics for 1993-1995, more than 6 thousand cases of malignant tumors were registered in Volgograd annually.

Cleanup Activity: In mid-1993, Volgograd was chosen as the test site for the initial phase of a four-year Russia Air Management Program (RAMP). Operating from 1995 to 1998, the project aimed to test new methods of air quality management techniques and policies. The results of the program were then circulated throughout the Russian Federation. The program was managed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in conjunction with the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) and other Russian organizations. The program created the Center for Environmental Training (CET), which promoted citizen participation through the education of NGOs, business and government leaders. Opening in October 1995, the CET continues to provide training to these various sectors of the Russian Federation.

"Description of ISC projects in Russia." Institute for Sustainable Communities. (2006)

"Volgograd Region" Kommersant: Russia's Daily Online. (2004) March 8.

"Shedding light on skin cancer" Environmental health perspectives. (1994). 102 (2).


Potentially affected people: 460,000

Type of pollutants: Lead, Sulfur dioxide, Heavy metals and air pollutants

Site description: In an area where it is rumoured unusual to give birth to a healthy baby, the local hospital estimates that only 1% of all children in Magnitogorsk are in good health. Magnitogorsk, located in Western Russia, lies on the banks of the Ural River. In the 1930's one of the largest Russian iron and steel works was established here that produced steel for half the Russian tanks during WW II. At optimum capacity it can produce up to 7.5 million tons of steel. The industry used to belch out 650,000 tons of industrial wastes, including 68 toxic chemicals, and polluted some 4,000 square miles of Russia. According to a steelworker, none of the filtering devices were in working condition. The highly increased cancer rates in the city are attributed to severe pollution from dioxides and benzopyrene. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, only 28% of infants born in 1992 were healthy, and only 27% had healthy mothers.

Cleanup Activity: in 2004 Blacksmith Institute's Technical Advisory Board reviewed the Magnitogorsk case. In 2005 the site was visited by Blacksmith Institute, which intends to fund health studies and plans to work with the plant to further reduce its pollution levels.

P. Green. "Breathing sulfur and eating lead: Magnitogorsk's children need oxygen cocktails." U.S. News & World Report. (1992) April 13.

Blacksmith Institute Polluted Places.


Potentially affected people: 30,000

Type of pollutants: chromium, lead, and pesticides (γ-HCH and malathion, dieldrin)

Site description: The city of Kanpur located on the banks of River Ganges, with a population of around 2.4 million, is a major industrial hub in the Northern India, home to a large number of industrial tanneries. Noraiakheda, a nearby settlement of some 30,000 people, has developed over a groundwater plume of tannery chemicals, including dyes and hexavalent chromium (Cr VI) used in the preservation of leather. A basic chrome sulfate manufacturing plant for tanneries has left a legacy of chromium, lead, and pesticide (DDT and Lindane) pollution. Large amounts of the chemical waste produced here were buried on the grounds of the old plant. This contaminated material has polluted groundwater further spreading to wells and drinking water. A 1997 study conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board on the groundwater quality in Kanpur revealed chromium concentrations to range from 124 to 258 times higher than the permissible Indian limit for areas polluted by tanneries.

Another study confirmed this leakage of chromium, along with many other polluters associated with the tannery industry, by sampling along the river Ganga. Along this stretch of the river, the river becomes more polluted as the river flows downstream of Kanpur, taking along high concentrations, above Indian standards, of these industrial wastes. Cleanup Activity: Blacksmith Institute supported Ecofriends, a local NGO in Kanpur to increase public awareness about the pollution problem in Kanpur and advocate for its cleanup. The NGO was successful in installing two systems in the Noraiakheda area for improved drinking water supplies.

The first pilot groundwater remediation project in India, initiated by Blacksmith Institute in cooperation with the Central Pollution Control Board of India and other Indian organizations to clean up hexavalent chromium, is slated to begin by the end of 2005.

N. Sankararamakrishnan, A. K Sharma, R. Sanghi. "Organochlorine and organophosphorous pesticide residues in ground water and surface waters of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India." Environmental International. (2005). 31 (1) 113-120.

A. R. Khwaja, R. Singh, and S. N. Tandon. "Monitoring of Ganga water and sediments vis-à-vis tannery pollution at Kanpur (India): A case study." Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. (2001) 68 (1) 19-35.

D. C. Sharma. "By order of the court: Environmental Cleanup in India". Environmental Health Perspect. (2005) June; 113(6): A394-A397.


Potentially affected people: 250,000

Type of pollutants: Hexavalent Chromium, Heavy Metals, Pesticides, Sewage, Solid Waste, Tannery Waste.

Site description: The Marilao, Meycauayan and Obando River System is extremely polluted receiving wastes from tanneries, gold and precious metals refineries, Philippines largest lead smelter, and municipal dumpsites. Significant industrial waste is haphazardly dumped into the Meycauayan River, a source of domestic and agricultural water for the 250,000 people living in and around Manila. Substantial contamination comes from small-scale lead recycling facilities along the river at Marilao, and from the many tanneries that dump untreated hexavalent chromium wastewater into the river. Furthermore, investigations by Greenpeace show that from 2000 to 2001, New Zealand has been exporting used lead acid batteries to the Philippines for recycling at a lead smelting plant in Marilao which has long been the subject of complaints from concerned residents and ex-workers.

The leaking of lead into the river has had a severe effect on the health of the local population with complaints of nausea, burning eyes sensation, and various respiratory ailments, reports which have been confirmed by a series of Greenpeace investigations conducted in 1996. This river also feeds directly into the Manila Bay, and its effluents contaminate commercial fishing areas.

Current Activity: Blacksmith is currently supporting the creation of a coordinating body to encourage and guide clean up of this river. This body will include senior representatives of the Philippines federal government, the Asian Development Bank, the local municipality, industry representatives and local community groups. They will together design and implement remediation efforts over the next several years.

"Toxic Trash from New Zealand mocks global agreement to stop trade in hazardous waste:pollutes local communities in the process." Greenpeace (2003) July 2.

J. Emmanuel. "Cleaning up toxic wastes in the Asia Pacific region." US Working Group for Philippine Bases Clean-up. (1997)
Blacksmith Institute Polluted Sites.


Potentially affected people: up to 50,000

Type of pollutants: Lead

Site Description: Tiljala lies in eastern Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal and is home to 34 small-scale secondary lead smelters operate here. In the Picnic Garden area, there are 27 lead factories producing lead ingots and lead alloys. These factories are located in close proximity to dense residential areas and open bodies of water exposing the local population of about 200,000 to heavily contaminated air and water. According to studies published by the School of Environmental Studies contaminants in the area include lead, arsenic, nickel, chromium and mercury. The concentration of lead in the soil, in dust on leaves and road dust is very high (5,000-20,000 ug/g). A study showed that the concentration of lead in the dust on dining tables exceeds 5,000 mg/g, according to Dr. Dipankar Chakraborty, director of the School of Environment in Jadavpur University.

The toxic products of these factories have grossly affected the health of the population. A survey conducted by the Chitranjan Cancer Research Institute revealed symptoms of upper respiratory problems found in 41.3% of urban and 13.5% of rural subjects, while lower respiratory tract symptoms were found in 47.8% of urban people in contrast to 35% of rural controls. Respiratory symptoms were most frequent during winter when the pollution level of the city with respect to Respirable Particulate Matter (RPM) was highest. However, the frequency of the symptoms during monsoon was greater than that of summer perhaps due to proliferation of microorganisms from elevated humidity during monsoon.

Cleanup Activities:

A study of the impact of lead contamination, and a plan for remediation are being developed with Blacksmith's support. The study will help to focus government efforts to upgrade or move these industries, and to remediate the area.

"Air pollution and human health" Parivesh: A Newsletter from central pollution control board. Ministry of Environment & Forests.

"Polluted places: India." Asian Development Bank (ADB). (2006).

N. Dasgupta. "Greening small recycling firms: the case of lead-smelting units in Calcutta." Environment and Urbanization. (1997) October. 9 (2) 289-305. "Problems associated with development: towards the city of joy."

GAIA: Environmental Information System. (1995-2002).

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