Problem goes well beyond a ‘Top Ten’ list, but the human impact in these areas should be a wake-up call to the world
Fires are set to wires and other electronics to release valuable cooper and other materials. The fires blacken the landscape, releasing toxic fumes. (Photo: Blacksmith Institute/Flickr)The rise of computers, advanced electronics and large-scale manufacturing systems have serious down sides that much of the developed world and the beneficiaries of those technologies have proven eager to ignore.
And on Monday, highlighting the ten worst places in the world for industrial pollution, a new report claims that more than 200 million people living in low- and middle-income countries are having their health dramatically impacted by their exposure to dangerous levels of toxic materials.
According to the report, produced by the U.S.-based Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland in Europe, the new list of the top ten polluted places shows that a range of pollution sources and industrial contaminants—including hexavalent chromium from tanneries and heavy metals released from smelting operations—continue to plague populations already suffering from poverty and poor health systems.
“In this year’s report, we cite some of the most polluted places we’ve encountered. But it is important to point out that the problem is really much larger than these ten sites,” says Richard Fuller, president of Blacksmith Institute. “We estimate that the health of more than 200 million people is at risk from pollution in the developing world.”
As the report shows, the world’s ten most polluted places include:
Citarum River, Indonesia
Matanza Riachuelo, Argentina
Niger River Delta, Nigeria
The groups released a similar report in 2007 and though many of the same areas remained on their top ten list, they were joined by an unfortunate number of newly polluted areas that have succumbed to the perils of electronic manufacturing and the growing quantities of e-waste produced by the digital revolution.
As Agence France-Presse reports:
West Africa’s second largest processing area for the world’s swelling piles of electronic waste, at Agbogbloshie in Ghana’s capital Accra was among new additions.
Each year, Ghana imports around 215,000 tonnes of secondhand consumer electronics, mainly from Western Europe — a number that is expected to double by 2020, according to the report.
The main health concern linked to e-waste processing in Ghana is the burning of sheathed cables to recover the copper inside, the report said, pointing out that the cables can contain a range of heavy metals, including lead.
Soil samples from around Agbogbloshie have shown concentrations of that toxic metal that are 45 times more than accepted levels, the report said.
“E-waste is really going to be a challenge. It’s growing exponentially. Everybody wants a computer, a laptop, the modern devices, so I think we’re seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Blacksmith research director Jack Caravanos told reporters in a conference call.
Read the full report, The Top Ten Toxic Threats: Cleanup, Progress, and Ongoing Challenges, here.