The Top 20 Most Polluted Areas in The World

Different kinds of Pollution affect our environment in different ways. The effects of air pollution are different from that of light pollution, which are different from those of plastic pollution. Pollution depends on several factors such as the density of pollution, concentration of factories and industries, incidences of natural or manmade disasters, geographical topography places, weather , etc. Here we discuss about the details about top 20 most polluted areas in the world.

There are polluted places where one may live for a while and there is a chronic exposure to pollutants which reduce the quality of life. There are others where spending even one hour would result in death. Pollution can be measured in terms of amount of pollutants per area or volume. But it can also be measured as the relative quality of air or water or the amount of waste produced by the population each day. Noise pollution is localized while air pollution is almost everywhere.

Marianna Trench, Pacific Ocean

According to the National Geographic, one of the remotest locations on Earth, 35,756 feet deep under the ocean, Marianna Trench is more polluted than the most polluted river in China, Liaohe River. Crustaceans that live in this trench have 50 times more pollutants in them. These pollutants include two persistent organic pollutants (POPs), produced between the 1930s and 1970s. Some of the 1.3 million tonnes of these produced then were released into the environment by industrial accidents and discharges, land fill leaks, and incomplete incineration. POPs linger in the environment a long time because they do not breakdown easily.

Linfen, China

According to TIME magazine this city on the banks of the Fen River is considered the most polluted city in the world. It is part of China’s coal belt with the hills around full of legal and illegal mines. Even agricultural water sources have been diverting causing severe water rationing.

There is too much burning coal that most residents are regularly hospitalized for respiratory conditions such as black lung, chronic bronchitis, and asthma. Elevated concentration of Arsenic in the drinking water causes Arsenicosis, skinlesions, peripheral vascular disease, hypertension , blackfoot disease and high cancer rates.

Excessive clothes can be assessed by the fact that laundry can turn black in a few minutes if you hang it out to dry. the government reduced the production of coal by closing down some of its producing plants and iron foundries. Better regulated facilities are being run nowadays. There is a shift from using coal to natural gas for central heating.

Tianying, China

Located in north-eastern China, this industrial city is severely polluted with lead and other heavy metals. Lead is found in its waters and once fertile soils.

The residents of this city show long term health effects of lead poisoning such as dullness forgetfulness, irritability , loss of memory, and hallucinations. There is also lead encephalopathy, lower IQs, short attention spans, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, impaired physical growth , hearing and visual problems, stomach aches, colon irritation, kidney malfunction, anaemia and brain damage. Premature births and underdeveloped infants are also common.

In 2000 after the city was designated as one of the eight worst polluted sites in China, the local administration ordered all lead processing firms be shut down till environmental impacts were assessed. They have also designated a specified industrial zone where the firms have moved their operations and improved all their treatment facilities.

Lake Karachay , Central Russia

A small lake in the southern Ural mountains was used as a dumping site for radioactive waste from Mayak , a nuclear waste storage and processing facility. A report from Worldwatch Institute Washington D.C rates Karachay as the most polluted place on the earth. The sediment of the lake bed is composed almost of high level radioactive waste to a depth of up to 11ft.

The lake was initially planned to store the highly radioactive material until it could be returned to the Mayak facility’s underground storage. This never happened because of the lethal levels of radioactivity. The Kyshtym disaster in 1957 when the underground vats exploded due to a faulty cooling system caused widespread contamination of the entire Mayak area. As the lake dries out winds carry radioactive dust from the dried area further away irradiating more places and people.

The lake was filled with hollow concrete blocks to prevent the sediments from shifting. Standing in this area causes such a lethal dose of radiation that one could be dead in an hour.

Norilsk, Russia

Terrible air pollution has placed this city in the list of most polluted cities in many studies. It has the world’s largest smelting complex. Trees do not grow within 30 km of the city. The life expectancy of the people here is 10 yrs less than the Russian average. Respiratory disease , cancers of the lungs and the digestive system is common. There has been no upgrade to the smelter equipment which could cut down the air pollution.

Great Pacific Garbage patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. It spans waters from the west coast of North America to Japan. It is bounded by the North Pacific subtropical Gyre, system of circular ocean currents formed by the Earth’s wind patterns and the forces created by the rotation of the planet.

The garbage patch consists primarily of plastic debris which are not biodegradable but fragment into smaller pieces, even microplastics. The water look like a cloudy soup and is intermixed with larer items such as fishing gear and shoes. Marine debris is harmful to marine life. Turtles, albatrosses, fish and other smaller organisms mistake these for food. Seals and larger mammals  get entangled in abandoned plastic fishing nets . Sunlight is blocked by the debris and affect the photosynthesis activity of algae and plankton. Thus endangering the entire food web.

Plastics leach bispheol-A and absorb pollutants such as PCB from the sea water and these enter the food chain. Cleaning this area is not easy and very expensive. Trying to clean up the sea could eliminate many smaller sized sea animals. Though no country takes the responsibility for the garbage many organisations and individuals are dedicated not to allow further increase of marine debris.

La Oroya, Peru

Since 1922 adults and children in La Oroya, Peru  a mining town, have been exposed to toxic emissons and wastes from the site of a poly metallic smelter. Owned by the Missouri based Doe Run Corporation , the plant has been largely responsible for dangerously high lead levels found in children’s blood. Lead poisoning is known to be particularly harmful to the mental development of children. Even new borns inherit high lead levels in the blood from their mothers. Sulphur dioxide concentrations are also high and contaminating the soil.

With the help of the government, and by updating their smelters and pollution control systems with an investment of $400 million, Doe Run Corporation has developed an environmental  management plan. They are also investing in community development and poverty alleviation efforts.

Sukinda Valley, India

97% of india’s chromite ore deposits and one of the largest open cast chromite ore mine are found in this valley in the state of Orissa. There are no environmental management systems in the operating mines.  Waste rock are spread over the surrounding areas. Untreated water is discharged by the mines into the river. This area is also flood prone resulting in further contamination of the water ways. Hexavalent chromium is found in the drinking water up to 20times above the accepted levels. Potentially 2,600,000 are affected by the water, air and soil pollution. The Brahmani river is the only water source. Water treatment facilities are very limited.

Gastrointestinal bleeding, tuberculosis and asthma are common ailments. Infertility, birth defects and still births are also prevalent. Even villages mre than a kilometre away from the mining sites report chromium poisoning related diseases. This is a classic example of pollution where wastes are spread over a large area and residents are affected through multiple pathways.

Sumgayit, Azerbaijan

During the Soviet era, Sumgayit was a major industrial centre with more than 40 factories manufacturing product like synthetic rubber, chlorine, aluminium, detergents and pesticides. At that time 70-120,000 tons of harmful emissions were released into the air annually. Today only 20% of these are functioning, but the city is still reeling under the effects of the legacy pollution. Issues of continuing lack of pollution controls, dated technologies and improper disposal and treatment of accumulated industrial waste plague the city.

High levels of disease and death still persist. Cancer rates here are 22-51% higher compared to other parts of Azerbaijan. Mortality rates are 8% higher. Many babies are born premature, still born and with genetic defects like Down’s syndrome, Anencephaly, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, bone disease and mutations such as club feet, cleft palate and additional digits.

The government with the help of international organisations like the World health Organisation, and United Nations Development Programme are trying to research and prioritize the environmental problems and propose programs to address them. The World Bank and other international projects funded by UK and Japan have also implemented few clean-up projects

Niger River Delta, Nigeria

This area has been polluted with petroleum since the 1950s. it isa densely populated region of roughly 70000 sqkm.  At least 240000 barrels of crude oil have been spilled into the delta each year affecting fishing, agriculture and human health.

Rio Matanza- Riachuelo, Argentina

The 60 km long river basin in Buenos Aires has 15000 small industries that pollute the river. The soil along the banks has high concentrations of heavy metals.  Chromium is found at an average level of 1141 parts per million, that is 900ppm more than regulated levels in the U.S. The heavy metals contaminate the drinking water for as many as 20000 people. The World Bank is funding a major project here that will help the city of Buenos Aires clean up the river but it will take a few decades.

Kalimantan, Indonesia

Artisanal gold mining using mercury to obtain pure gold, is the second largest source of mercury pollution in the world. Kalimantan is centre of this kind of gold mining and more than 1000 metric tons of mercury enter the environment each year. Mercury is a known brain poison accumulating in water and fish.

Kabwe, Zambia

The entire city of Kabwe is contaminated with lead dust. It has the largest lead smelters as well as many lead mines. The leftover lead ore is still mined for profit releasing more of the toxic heavy metal. Children in Kabwe have 40 times higher lead levels than the safe limit proposed by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control. The average blood concentration is between 50-100 micrograms per decilitre. Very little is being done to control the lead pollution.

Hazaribagh, Bangladesh

Hazaribagh has 270 registered tanneries on roughly 25 hectares of land. Each day 22000 cubic litres of toxic waste including carcinogenic hexavalent chromium is dumped into the Buriganga River. All of the 185000 or more people living in Hazaribagh are being poisoned by the industry that employs 8000 to 12000 people.

Dzerzhinsk, Russia

The most chemically polluted city in the world- Guinness World Records 2011. 300,000 metric tons over 60 years have been improperly buried in the region, 190 different chemicals have been detected in the groundwater. Life expectancy is 47 for women and 42 for men is 10-15 years lower than the already low average life expectancy in Russia.

Citarum River, Indonesia

Nine million people and 2000 factories are found in 13000 sq. km of the river basin in the island of Java. The waterway provides water for drinking bathing as well as rice irrigation. Metal contamination has been found in the water including lead, mercury and even arsenic.

The Indonesian government has pledged to invest $3.5 billion to clean the river with a loan from World Bank.

Chernobyl, Ukraine

Chernobyl is still the world worst civilian nuclear accident. Nearly 30 years later 150,000 of land remain contaminated with various radioactive isotopes such as cesuim 137 or plutonium that were released when the reactor exploded. As many as 10 million people are at risk. There is no possibilityof relocating this many people. There is no quick and easy fix.

Agbogbloshie, Ghana

Agbogbloshie is a dump site for e-waste. Recovering precious metals and other components of computers and electronic devices is the main cause of pollution here. Recyclers burn off the plastic sheathing on copper cables and wires often using locally available fuels like Styrofoam. Heavy metals such as lead in these cables travel by air and settle on local homes and soils. Levels of lead in samples from the site is as high as  18,125 parts per million- 45 times higher than allowed in the U.S. Blood levels of lead is 17 times higher than allowable.

Even if the wires can be stripped with hand tools, burning remains cheaper and easier. And the amount of e-waste is only growing. There will be many such toxic sites found as valuable metals continue to be used in electronics.

Gulf of Mexico’s Dead Zone

This  is an area of hypoxic waters at the mouth of the Mississippi. Its area varies in size, but is up to 6000-7000 sq. miles. The zone occurs between the inner and mid-continental shelf in the northern Gulf of Mexico beginning at the Mississippi river delta and extending westward to the upper Texas coast. It is one of the largest dead zones in the world.

Nutrient enrichment is caused by excess run off of nitrogen and phosphorus ,from the farming states in the Mississippi valley including Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. This is followed by algal overgrowth and blooming which reduces the level of oxygen in the river to such an extent that no other plant or animal can survive in these waters.

The Gulf of Mexico is a major source area for the seafood industry. The Gulf supplies 72% of U.S. harvested shrimp, 66% of harvested oysters and 16% of commercial fish. If the dead zone worsens, the fishermen and the coastal state economies is greatly impacted.

New Delhi, India

Measurements taken  in New Delhi in November 2016 put the city’s Air Quality Index at 999 on Monday. The standard chart finishes at the hazardous level of 500! Overpopulation and overuse of scarce resources such as water puts heavy pressure on the environment.  Add to this the road dust and industry and heavy traffic. The vehicles that are found in large numbers are the ones that run on diesel. This also adds to noise pollution. Water pollution and in sufficient solid waste treatment facilities have caused great damage to the Yamuna River.


The above are designated among the most polluted places in the world. They cannot be designated an order. Each person or animal suffering in a place will feel that this is the most polluted place in the world , depending on his level of health.

But it is good to have a list and to note that in many places measures are being taken to control the pollution. As children , elderly and other weaker sections of society are affected the most , it is heartening to see government and other international agencies researching and coming up with ways to help the people. Read about some countries which succeeded in controlling their pollution rate

It is always good to progress, but the impact of development must not affect the environment and man himself adversely.  Every highly polluted city paid no attention then and are now paying the price for their carelessness. This is a warning to be heeded.