1. Chernobyl, Ukraine
When you hear Chernobyl, you immediately think nuclear disaster. It was, in fact the worst nuclear accident in history. A huge fallout cloud of radioactive dust spread across vast swathes of the Soviet Union, Europe and Eastern North America. As a result, an estimated 9 thousand people have contracted cancer and died. The disaster displaced over 336,000 people. Life expectancy is low. However, according to scientist James Lovelock, Chernobyl was an ecological success: animals can now roam around free without being hunted. Environmental Graffiti disagrees.
2. Dzerzhinsk, Russia
Until recently, the city of Dzerzhinsk in Russia used to produce huge quantities of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and lewisite. Chemical weapons ceased to be produced by 1945. However, the waste was buried underground, contaminating water and crops. The site however, remains the largest producer of chemicals for the Russian Federation. Life expectancy is low at 42 for men and 47 years for women. This is attributed to the high levels of persistent organic chemicals.
3. Haina, Dominican Republic
Haina, has been referred to as the ‘Dominican Chernobyl’. According to the United Nations, the population of Haina is considered to have the highest level of lead contamination in the world, and its entire population bears the scars. The contamination is believed to have been caused by the past industrial operations of the nearby Baterías Meteoro, an automobile battery recycling smelter. Although the company has moved to a new site, the contamination still remains.
4. Kabwe, Zambia
Kabwe, the “bush capital” of Zambia was the site of a huge mine. The mine became the largest in the country until overtaken in the early 1930s by larger copper mining complexes on the Copper belt. Apart from lead and zinc it also produced silver, manganese and heavy metals such as cadmium, vanadium, and titanium in smaller quantities. The reason why the mine is on our list is that large quantities of zinc and lead tailing have made their way into the local water supply.
5. La Oroya, Peru
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. Studies carried out by the Director General of Environmental Health in Peru in 1999 showed that ninety-nine percent of children living in and around La Oroya have blood lead levels that exceed acceptable amounts.