E-Waste Dump among Top 10 Most Polluted Sites

A list of the 10 most polluted places on Earth ranges from nuclear sites to e-waste dumps
Image of four of the dirtiest places on earth.

JANE HAHN Corbis (a); DIDIER MARTI Getty Images (b); GETTY IMAGES (c); PIUS UTOMI EKPEI Getty Images (d)

In Brief

  • The Top 10 Toxic Threats
  • Agbogbloshie, Ghana
    E-waste (A)
  • Chernobyl, Ukraine
    Nuclear accident
  • Citarum River Basin, Indonesia
    Industrial and domestic pollution (B)
  • Dzerzhinsk, Russia
    Chemical manufacturing
  • Hazaribagh, Bangladesh
    Tanneries (C)
  • Kabwe, Zambia
    Lead mining
  • Kalimantan, Indonesia
    Gold mining
  • Matanza Riachuelo, Argentina
    Industrial pollution
  • Niger River Delta, Nigeria
    Oil spills (D)
  • Noril'sk, Russia
    Mining and smelting
  • Sites on the unranked list appear in alphabetical order.

More on this Topic

Agbogbloshie, a neighborhood of Accra, Ghana, is where European gadgets go to die. Ghana imports some 237,000 tons of computers, cell phones, televisions and other electronics annually, mostly from Europe, making Agbogbloshie one of the largest e-waste dumps in Africa. It may already be the dirtiest. The site has earned the dubious distinction of joining Chernobyl and the industrial hub of Noril'sk, Russia, on the Blacksmith Institute's list of the world's 10 most polluted places. Workers at Agbogbloshie burn insulated electrical cables to recover the valuable copper inside, releasing lead and other heavy metals in the process.

“Everybody wants a laptop, wants the modern devices,” Jack Caravanos, a professor at the City University of New York School of Public Health and a Blacksmith technical adviser, said during a press conference last November. “Stopping e-waste is proving very complicated and difficult.”

The Blacksmith Institute, along with Green Cross Switzerland, compiled the new rankings after surveying more than 2,000 sites in 49 countries. The organizations estimate that toxic pollution threatens the health of more than 200 million people in the developing world.

Several places that appeared on an earlier list, compiled in 2006, have now dropped off, thanks to cleanup efforts. In Haina, Dominican Republic, heavily lead-contaminated soil at a battery recycling center has been buried in a specialized landfill, which Blacksmith hailed as the greatest “success story” among the sites flagged in 2006. China and India have also disappeared from the top 10. The Chinese government shut down about 1,800 polluting factories in Linfen, and India has implemented a program to assess and remediate contaminated sites across the country.

Although none of the sites now listed are in the U.S., Japan or western Europe, much of the pollution stems from the lifestyles of wealthy countries, noted Stephan Robinson of Green Cross Switzerland. Some pollution comes from producing the raw materials for consumer goods. Tanneries in Bangladesh, for example, provide leather for Italian-made shoes sold in New York City or Zurich. And some pollution, as is the case in Agbogbloshie, comes from things that affluent nations no longer want.

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This article was originally published with the title "Pick Your Poison."

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