Any substance, no matter how seemingly benign it may be, can cause damage to an organism. Something as simple as water can easily become toxic since toxins are dose dependent. As the old saying goes, a couple of drops of poison can kill off an entire pond. Though we do our best to avoid toxic places, some areas of the world are so sick we, as humans, can not continue to ignore them. Here is an eyeopening glimpse into the 10 Most Toxic Places On Earth:
Karachay, a small lake nestled in the Ural mountains in Western Russia, is home to a nuclear waste dumping site so radioactive it has been declared the most polluted locale on the planet. During the early 1950s, the Soviet Union began ditching radioactive waste from Mayak, a nuclear waste storage and reprocessing facility in Ozyorsk, into Lake Karachay. Many years later, the Worldwatch Institute on nuclear waste rendered the area "the most polluted spot on Earth." Radiation levels at the lake are so high that one hour of exposure is considered lethal. The accumulated levels of radioactivity are around 4.44 exabequerels (EBq) with 3.6 EBq of Caesium-137 and 0.74 EBq of Strontium-90. To give better perspective of how toxic Karachay is, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster released between 5 to 12 Ebq of unconcentrated radioactivity. Talk about melt your face off...
9. Aral Sea
The Aral Sea, located in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, was one of the world's four largest lakes until the waters that fed it were diverted for Soviet Union irrigation projects. By 2007, the Aral Sea shrank to a mere 10% of its original size and split into four basins. The resulting devastation to the areas surrounding the sea were catastrophically life threatening to the ecosystem, economy, and people residing near the lake. Toxic chemicals from weapons testing, industrial projects, pesticides, and fertilizer have runoff and been swept by winds into nearby lands and surrounding areas. People nearby not only suffer from lack of fresh water but also cancer, lung disease, digestive disorders, antibiotic resistant tuberculosis, liver, eye, and kidney disorders, and of course, unusually high mortality rates. To worsen matters, salt from the lake is not only toxic but has a higher salinity than sea water, with levels from what remains of the South Aral measured in excess of 100g/L versus sea water salinity of 35 g/L. The huge plains of what used to be the waters of the Aral Sea are now exposed, causing toxic dust storms and wreaking havoc on crops and humans. Worse yet, the Aral Sea is suspected of contributing to global warming.
8. Fresh Kills Landfill
Staten Island is a borough of New York City, home not only to nearly half a million people, but also home to what was once one of the largest landfills known to man. In 1947, garbage from New York City and its surrounding suburbs was transported to Fresh Kills estuary located in Western Staten Island. The landfill was supposed to be just a temporary solution to what would become a longstanding waste problem. During the second part of the 20th century, the site grew to be 2,200 acres of trash stacked 25 meters taller than the Statue of Liberty. For decades, throes of rats, wild dogs, and other parasitic beasts called Fresh Kills home, feeding off decaying debris and chasing off workers of the landfill. On March 22, 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency shut down Fresh Kills (and briefly reopened the area post 9/11 to sift through remnants of Ground Zero.) Remarkably, just two years following its shutdown, development to reclaim wetlands and reuse the site for a public parkland were unveiled, wrapped in a tidy 30 year plan destined to include room for nature trails, community events, outdoor dining, and sports fields. Beware if you plan your picnic at Fresh Kills and watch for disease carrying rats. Oh and remember that smell is just methane gases released from decomposing trash beneath your feet.
7. Yamuna River
The Yamuna is located in India and flows from the Yamunotri Glacier nestled in the Lower Himalayas and supplies water for 57 million people. As one of the largest tributaries of the Ganges River, the Yamuna travels approximately 855 miles through the entire Ganges Basin to places like Uttarakhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Predesh, and all the way to Delhi. The Yamuna is considered sacred by Hindus and popular lore states the Yamuna has the potential to free believers from the torments of death. A quick water test may cause believers to reconsider. The Yamuna has "reasonably good quality water" unless you're downriver from Wazirabad. From that point on, copious amounts of fertilizer, sewage drains, trash, herbicides, pesticides, and commercial or industrial have polluted the stream so to speak. It seems the Yamuna collects more than just glacier water as it winds through Bharat. Approximately 58 percent of Delhi's waste is sunk directly into its waters. Care for a garbage swim?
6. La Oroya
La Oroya is literally a smelted mining town located in the Peruvian Andes. Since 1922, the young and old living in La Oroya have breathed in toxic emissions and lived in toxic waste created by the poly-metallic smelter plant owned by a Missouri based company called Doe Run Corporation. La Oroya is home to not only the world's most critical levels of air pollution but also to the highest blood levels known to any children on the planet. An astoundingly astronomical NINETY NINE percent of the children who run and play in La Oroya have blood levels which exceed acceptable limits to qualify for lead poisoning. The plant is reportedly expected to decrease emissions and clean up any residual contamination. Like that will help poor kids who died or now live suffering with heart, bone, intestinal, reproductive, behavioral, and nervous system development issues caused by lead poisoning!
Kabwe-Ka Mukuba translates to "ore" or "smelting" so it follows that Kabwe is a mine located in Zambia. Though Kabwe outgrew its former name of Broken Hill, the mine has long been rendered one of the worst places on Earth. Originally one of the largest mining complexes, now Kabwe is a barren mess. Once all of the lead, zinc, silver, manganese, cadmium, vanadium, and titanium were extracted from Kabwe, the Blacksmith Institute found Broken Hill to be more than broken. It seems heavy metal tailings (or waste rock) from the mine, primarily zinc and lead, found their way into water supplies, affecting nearly 210,000 people. Additionally, lead and cadmium have been absorbed in areas around the mine, rendering the ground unusable for crops. Blood level lead concentrations in children of Kabwe are up to ten times U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. The only good news from the whole mess may perhaps be the mine was officially shut down. Better news is the 1921 find of a human skull known as Broken Hill Man or Rhodesian Man, classified as Homo rhodesiensis or Homo heidelbergensis.
4. West Virginia Mountaintop Removal Mining
Disclaimer: tree huggers beware, this will give you nightmares. The most efficient means of completely obliterating purple mountain majesties is happening right in West Virginia's Appalachian Mountains. Though it seems cool to blow apart a mountain to find coal inside, mountaintop removal mining is perhaps the most destructive force caused by man. The process of mountaintop removal begins with clear cutting forests, removing soil, and making way for an 8 million pound dragline to push through rock to get to the coal. Machines then dig out layers upon layers of coal and dump the remains of the former mountaintop (aptly called "overburden") into valleys, blocking off over 1,200 miles of Appalachian headwater streams and rivers. To further the ecological burden of a removed mountaintop, the process has been proven to increase erosion (a pretty nasty process when it occurs naturally) and increase polluted runoff. What's left after mountaintop removal mining is a COMPLETELY barren mountain, incapable of EVER sustaining life again.
Where was the only place on Earth where a death rate can exceed its birth rate by 260 percent during 2003? Dzerzhinsk. Located in Nizhy Novgorod Oblast, Russia along the Oka River, at approximately 250 miles east of Moscow, Dzerzhinsk is hands down the most chemically polluted place on Earth per the Guinness Book of World Records. Once Russia's primary chemical weapons production site, Dzerzhinsk is now home to approximately 300,000 tons of chemical waste dumped between 1930 until 1998. The Blacksmith Institute found during a 2007 study that the life expectancy for men is 42 years and 47 years for women, compliments of dioxins, sarin, leeisite, sulfur mustard, hydrogen cyanide, phosgene, lead, phenol, and other chemicals in the air and water of the city. Additionally, the Ecology Committee of the Russian State Duma has ranked Dzerhinksk as one of the top ten cities with disastrous ecological conditions but the city administration claims otherwise. Local officials insist that pollution levels are moderate. Water tests, however, revealed contaminates were 17 million times higher than levels rendered safe by EPA standards. Better stick to beer if you're traveling through.
2. Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin
The Matanza-Riachuelo River is 64 kilometers long and home to 3.5 million people. Unfortunately, the people along the Matanza have only one source of water, straight from the place synonymous with pollution. The Matanza is filled with illegal sewage pipes draining directly into the river. Additionally, along Mantanza-Riachuelo's banks are 13 slums and 42 open garbage dumps. Residents and tourists have reported strong odors released from chemical residue and methane gas emitting from the River. Reports garnered attention from the Blacksmith Institute during 2007 and the Matanza-Riachuelo ranked on the list of the "Dirty Thirty" most polluted places in the world. The Matanza conjures that silly phrase "if it's yellow, let it mellow" but if it's stinkin', you might be sinkin'... into a puddle of toxicity.
Constant worry and conflicting reports from various world powers have caused mass confusion over the radioactive nightmare brewing in Japan, compliments of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The course of history changed when Fukushima, Japan's nuclear power plant located in the towns of Okuma and Futaba in the Futaba Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, was rendered as stable as an unmedicated bipolar sociopath by none other than Mother Nature. With a crisis looming in excess of $300 billion bucks, underground threats in the form of aftershocks, the upcoming typhoon season, and, of course, ever rising radiation levels, things on this planet will never be the same. Things are so bad the Japanese government, notorious for denying the obvious, issued evacuation orders from areas within 20 kilometers of the crippled plant and stated anyone who enters the zone will be arrested. Hey folks, if a government makes it illegal to be within a certain distance of a leaking nuclear reactor, shouldn't we be asking more questions? Just how green is nuclear energy again?