Environmental health organization Blacksmith has announced its 2007 top ten list of the "World's Worst Polluted Places." Topping the list is Sumgayit, Azerbaijan, followed by Linfen, China; Tianying, China; Sukinda, India; Vapi, India; La Oroya, Peru; Dzerzhinsk, Russia; Norilsk, Russia; Chernobyl, Ukraine; Kabwe, Zambia. From the description of Sumgayit's situation:
Potentially Affected People: 275,000
Type of Pollutants: Organic chemicals, oil, heavy metals including mercury.
Source of Pollution: Petrochemical and Industrial Complexes
Sumgayit was a major Soviet industrial center housing more than 40 factories manufacturing industrial and agricultural chemicals. These included synthetic rubber, chlorine, aluminium, detergents, and pesticides. While the factories remained fully operational, 70-120,000 tons of harmful emissions were released into the air annually. With the emphasis placed on maximum, low-cost production at the expense of environmental and occupational health and safety, industry has left the city heavily contaminated. Factory workers and residents of the city have been exposed to a combination of high-level occupational and environmental pollution problems for several decades.
Untreated sewage and mercury-contaminated sludge (from chlor-alkali industries) continue to be dumped haphazardly. A continuing lack of pollution controls, dated technologies and the improper disposal and treatment of accumulated industrial waste are just some of the issues that plague the city.
Sumgayit had one of the highest morbidity rates during the Soviet Era and the legacy of illness and death persist. A study jointly conducted by the UNDP, WHO, Azerbaijan Republic Ministry of Health and the University of Alberta demonstrated that residents of Sumgayit experience intensely high levels of both cancer morbidity and mortality. Cancer rates in Sumgayit are 22-51% higher than average incidence rates in the rest of Azerbaijan. Mortality rates from cancer are 8% higher. Evidence suggests that lower reported cancer rates are flawed as a result of underreporting.
A high percentage of babies are born premature, stillborn, and with genetic defects like Mongolism, anencephaly, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, bone disease, and mutations such as club feet, cleft palate, and four or six fingers or toes.
David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.