Solve pollution. Save lives. Protect the planet.

Between 2006 and 2016, Pure Earth published a series of annual reports, The World’s Worst Polluted Places, that brought attention to the industrial pollution crisis that had been building in low- and middle-income countries.  Our research and program team chemical hazards and industries that pose a grave threat to human health.

Visit the website to see the reports from 2008 – 2016: World’s Worst Polluted Places

The inaugural report published in 2006 can be found here.  And the 2007 report can be found here.

Below is an excerpt from the introduction to the first report published 18 years ago.


World’s Worst Polluted Places – the Top Ten –  September 2006

The Unfinished Challenge of Pollution

After decades of effort and attention, industrial pollution is now only an occasional worry

for most of the developed world. Although there are a few remaining threats, pollution is

generally regarded as a problem that is carefully regulated, managed and watched over by


This is not the case in the poorest countries. There, pollution continues to be a major

source of death, illness and long-term environmental damage. Across the developing

world, pollution kills thousands of people indiscriminately, shortens lives, damages

children’s development and growth, and creates a background of chronic illnesses that

makes strong economic development nearly impossible.

Living in a town with serious pollution is like living under a death sentence. If the damage

does not come from immediate poisoning, then cancers, lung infections and mental

retardation are likely outcomes. Often insidious and unseen, and usually in places with

deficient and exhausted health systems, pollution is an unacknowledged burden of the

poor and unvoiced in the developing world. It is a major factor impairing economic growth,

and a significant strain on the lives of already impoverished people.

It is worse in some places than others.

Most poor countries have cities or estates where industry is concentrated, usually well

away from the capitals. In these places we find soil, air and water contamination not just

from active enterprises (many of them antiquated), but also from the legacy of decades of

uncontrolled emissions. There are soil and groundwater that have been poisoned, rivers

that ooze toxins, and lakes that cannot be approached safely, let alone used for irrigation

or drinking. There are some towns where life expectancy approaches medieval rates,

where birth defects are the norm not the exception. In other places children’s asthma

rates are measured above 90 percent, or mental retardation is endemic. In these places,

life expectancy may be half that of the richest nations. The great suffering of these

communities compounds the tragedy of so few years on earth.

These areas are the most polluted places on earth. The world knows of the incidents at

Chernobyl and Bhopal, but these other stories are never heard, never exposed or

publicized. Instead, they have developed over time into horrific human disasters.

How did they get like this? For one thing, many developing countries have inadequate

pollution controls. Even if sub-standard or antiquated factories were brought to modern

requirements, the legacy of old contamination from the past would continue to poison

citizens. These failings are compounded by a lack of knowledge at the local level and

weakness in the capability of civil society to force justice when governments are negligent.

In Blacksmith’s years of trying to help communities and local groups with their own specific

problems, more than three hundred “polluted places” in over thirty countries have been

nominated for remediation. Local and concerned people put these places forward as

problems that need to be addressed urgently.

Which sites are the worst?

Despite the emotional and incomparable suffering of poor communities world wide, this

report attempts to objectively expose sites that have the most extreme effects on human

health. Despite isolation of the sites and complacency of those responsible, this list

recognizes that the challenges of pollution are far from resolved for millions in the

developing world.


This report is also intended to indicate that there are potential remedies for these sites.

Problems like these have been solved in the developed world, and we have the capacity

and the technology to spread our experience to our afflicted neighbors. This report’s

purpose is to highlight significant problem sites, and show that something can be done to

begin to fix them. A discussion of solutions is presented later in this document.

For those who have other sites to recommend to the list, or have other feedback on the

process, we welcome your input so that the next version can be more definitive.

This list of top horrors is not exact, but it’s a start. More importantly, it’s a start to a

process that has a definitive and foreseeable end; a world where industrial development is

no longer life-threatening.