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Top Ten Polluting Industries 2016


What is Blacksmith Institute's World's Worst Pollution Problems list?

Blacksmith Institute's World's Worst Pollution Problems list is an unranked listing of the top ten pollution problems that have a severe impact on human health, particularly the health of children. While the list of pollution problems is not definitive, it does reflect the most serious environmental issues that impact communities around the globe, specifically in the developing world.  The list provides context and scope to the various pollution problems faced by communities featured in our previous Top Ten World’s Worst Polluted Places reports.


How were the top ten pollution problems chosen?

The objective of the report was to highlight those pollution problems that have significant health effects on people, especially children.  In order to choose the Top Ten pollution problems from the Toxic Twenty, Blacksmith’s Technical Advisory Board used a scoring system to assign values for three key parameters that determine the health impact of a pollution problem:

  •  The characteristics and quantity of the pollutant itself
  •  The pathway by which it affects people
  •  The numbers of people who are impacted


Why did Blacksmith Institute create the World's Worst Polluted Problems list?

Blacksmith has issued the Report for a number of reasons. First, it offers context and scale to the severe environmental problems faced by communities in the developing world, including those featured in our previous World’s Worst Polluted Places reports. 

A second reason for developing the list is to focus international awareness on pollution as an issue with a significant effect on human, especially children’s, health. Industrial pollution has been generally resolved over the past decades in industrialized countries thanks to the environmental movement, increased awareness, technological progress and economic prosperity. Despite this, toxic pollution continues to affect over a billion people in the developing world. The World Bank estimates that about 20% of the negative health impacts in developing countries can be traced to environmental factors.  Other studies indicate that this number could be as high as 40%.

Finally, we hope to emphasize that in many cases there are practical, proven, and affordable solutions for these problems, if the political will exists. 


Are the ten pollution problems on Blacksmith Institute's World's Worst list really the world's worst?

The “Top Ten World’s Worst Pollution Problems” is a non-ranked set of global issues, which – in the overall judgment of a panel of expert advisors – represent ongoing activities and conditions that pose the greatest threat to human health. This judgment requires a balance between problems with widespread but moderate contamination levels, and problems that are smaller but much more toxic. There can always be debate about such judgments, but there is no denying that each of the Top Ten Worst Pollution Problems represents a worldwide threat to human health and development.


Who are the industrial polluters?

In most cases the pollution sources are locally owned small and large scale industries.  It is, in fact, rare that a highly polluted place is associated with a large US or EU multinational corporation.


Is the pollution ongoing or the result of past activities?

Some of the pollution in these places is referred to as "legacy," where the pollution is from a source that is no longer operating, while others are "active," where the source of pollution is ongoing. 

One example of a legacy site is Kabwe, Zambia, a former lead mine.  The site was once a government-owned operation but now belongs to a private company that no longer has an active presence. As one of the world's poorest countries, Zambia has few resources to finance the clean up. Fortunately, in this case Blacksmith Institute has been able to leverage funds from the World Bank. The Bank has allocated an initial $40 million for immediate interventions and for education in the Copperbelt region that includes Kabwe.


What can be done to solve some of these pollution problems? 

Industrial wastes, air emissions, and legacy pollution affect over a billion people around the world, with millions poisoned and killed each year. Other people have reduced neurological development, damaged immune systems, and long-term health problems. Women and children are especially at risk. Much of this can be fixed, affordably and effectively. There exist culturally and economically responsible interventions that have been proven to save lives. Many of these are developed at the local level with input from technical experts. Others adapt more complex technologies to be more appropriate for developing country environments. As a whole, many of these solutions are replicable, effective and affordable.
To implement these interventions, two responsibilities must be taken up by the international community.  First, there must be a concerted global effort to identify comprehensively the polluted places where human health is at risk. Second, the resources necessary to support the remediation of these sites must be made available.

The Global Inventory Project

A major challenge to the international community is to identify exactly where and how pollution affects people. To our knowledge, Blacksmith Institute’s internal database of polluted places is the most comprehensive in the world. However, the 600 sites it contains just scratch the surface of what exists. Partly to address this need, Blacksmith Institute has entered into a partnership with the European Commission and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization to develop a comprehensive inventory of polluted places. The Global Inventory Project will be the first of its kind. During the 18-month project Blacksmith and partners will identify and assess more than 500 polluted places. The
information collected will be made accessible to organizations and governments working to end the health threat of pollution.

The Health and Pollution Fund

A second major challenge is to leverage the funds necessary to remediate the many polluted places where health is at risk. In order to provide a vehicle to take up this challenge, the Health and Pollution Fund (HPF) was launched in principle in October 2007 by representatives from governmental agencies of the United States, Germany, China, Russia, Mozambique, Kenya, and the Philippines. Also part of the launch were representatives from the World Bank, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Green Cross Switzerland, Blacksmith Institute, as well as leading researchers from within the public health and pollution remediation fields. HPF is a planned $400 million fund which will be dedicated to combating toxic pollution in developing countries that has resulted from industrial, mining, and military operations. The Fund will be directed toward cleaning up over 400 highly polluted locations worldwide that affect more than 100 million people - people who suffer from reduced life expectancies, increased cancer risks and severe neurological damage. Projects initiated by HPF will channel funds to local stakeholders, with technical support and oversight provided by a central Secretariat. The Fund is in development, in discussions with potential donors. For more information on the Health and Pollution Fund, please visit


What does this list have to do with Blacksmith’s mission?

The Toxic Twenty Report aims to draw international attention to the many different kinds of pollution problems that exist which threaten human health.  It is Blacksmith’s hope that in doing so, the international community will be galvanized to act and save lives by addressing these solvable pollution problems.


How can I become involved with the Blacksmith Institute?

Blacksmith, in partnership with United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the European Commission on the Environment, is currently developing a comprehensive inventory of polluted places to comprehensively identify sites where human health is at risk.


Who are your partner organizations?

In releasing this year's Pollution Problems list, Blacksmith Institute partnered with Green Cross Switzerland. The two organizations have worked together since 2006. They are currently collaborating on a project to clean up pollution from legacy mining and smelting operations in Rudnaya Pristan in Russia's Far East and to address chemical pollution in the aftermath of the Earthquake in Sichuan, China among others. Green Cross Switzerland facilitates overcoming consequential damages caused by industrial and military disasters and the cleanup of contaminated sites from the period of the Cold war.  You can read more about Green Cross Switzerland at