The World's Worst Pollution Problems, 2008

In 2006 and 2007, Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland released lists of the "World's Worst Polluted Places." For 2008, they have updated their methodology to focus on the World's Worst Pollution Problems. According to the Blacksmith Institute, "this report gives an overview of the range of pollution threats humans face throughout the world." Each problem listed below exists in more than one location around the world, so they are truly global issues. The list in alphabetical order.

  1. Artisanal Gold Mining
    Artisanal mining uses rudimentary methods to extract and process minerals and metals on a small scale. Artisanal miners frequently use toxic materials, including mercury, in their attempts to recover metals and gems. These toxic materials can be released into the environment, posing large health risks to the miners, their families and surrounding communities.
  2. Contaminated Surface Water
    Every human needs about 20 liters of freshwater a day for basic survival and an additional 50 to 150 liters for basic household use. With growing populations and an overall increase in living standards, not only is the demand for freshwater pushing limits, but increasing pollution from urban, industrial and agricultural sources is making available resources either unusable or dangerous to health.
  3. Indoor Air Pollution
    Indoor Air Pollution (IAP) describes the adverse ambient air conditions inside households, schools, places of work, and other indoor spaces. IAP can be caused by a range of sources, including stoves, smoking and machinery. Most IAP occurs in the developing world.
  4. Industrial Mining Activities
    Waste rock from industrial mining often generates acid drainage when air and water come into contact with metal sulfide minerals, and the resulting sulfuric acid solutions contaminate surface water bodies and groundwater.
  5. Groundwater Contamination
    Groundwater is a very important source of freshwater, making up 97 percent of the world's accessible freshwater reserves. In addition, about two billion urban and rural people depend on groundwater for everyday needs. Obviously, the contamination of this water source, mostly through human activities, has far-reaching consequences.
  6. Metals Smelting and Processing
    Some metals smelting and processing facilities are known to emit high quantities of air pollutants such as hydrogen fluoride, sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, offensive and noxious smoke fumes, vapors, gases, and other toxins. A variety of heavy metals: lead, arsenic, chromium, cadmium, nickel, copper, and zinc are also released by the facilities.
  7. Radioactive Waste and Uranium Mining
    There are two kinds of radioactive waste: high level and low level. The former comes from "spent" fuel from a nuclear reactor. The latter includes material that has only a small decay activity or has become contaminated with, or activated by, nuclear materials. Both kinds of waste are extremely dangerous and hard to dispose of.
  8. Untreated Sewage
    Untreated sewage poses a major risk to human health since it contains waterborne pathogens that can cause serious illness. Untreated sewage also destroys aquatic ecosystems, and therby threatens human livelihoods, when the associated biological oxygen demand and nutrient loading deplete oxygen in the water to levels too low to sustain animal and plant life.
  9. Urban Air Pollution
    The health impacts caused by outdoor air pollution have been widely recognized by both national governments and multilateral development organizations as a threat to urban populations, especially in developing countries. The World Health Organization estimates that 865,000 deaths per year can be directly attributed to outdoor air pollution.
  10. Used Lead Acid Battery Recycling
    The most common example of a lead acid battery is a car battery. When these batteries can no longer hold a charge, they have to be disposed of, but scavenging them and opening them up to extract the lead has become a cottage industry in the developing world. The lead is valuable, but it also puts everyone near it at severe risk for lead poisoning.
Source: the Blacksmith Institute, 2008. Web: .

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