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  2009 “World’s Worst Polluted Places Report” Reveals Modest Gains in Pollution Fight, Calls for Urgent Action to Protect Children's Lives

NEW YORK CITY, October 28, 2009 – A new report issued today by New York-based Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland highlights 12 successful approaches in use today to clean up some of the world’s worst polluted places.  The results demonstrate that pollution remediation is one of the most effective ways of saving lives, especially those of children.  Despite successes, the report notes that pollution cleanup is still just an emerging activity in developing countries.  These bright spots in the pollution landscape should persuade the international community to step up funding for similar remediation programs, concludes the report.

The 2009 World's Worst Polluted Places: 12 Cases of Cleanup and Success is the fourth on the state of pollution in some of the world’s worst polluted places.  It was compiled from nominations received from around the world and developed with input from Blacksmith’s Technical Advisory Board, which includes leading experts from Johns Hopkins University, Hunter College, Harvard University and Mt. Sinai Hospital.  A copy of the report is available online at

“This year, instead of our annual listing of the world’s worst polluted places or pollution problems, we are focusing on the positive,” says Richard Fuller, president and founder of Blacksmith Institute. “The takeaway here is that eliminating pollution is difficult but not impossible.  The report shows that pollution can be tackled successfully. We just need the right resources and commitment.”

The report includes modest local projects - like the cleanup and conversion of contaminated land into a children's playground in the Dominican Republic or similar cleanups that might cost in the range of several hundred thousand dollars - to sweeping initiatives such as a 12-year, multi-billion dollar overhaul of Shanghai's Suzhou Creek.  It also features two success stories with worldwide impact:  the global phase-out of leaded gasoline and the international treaty to eliminate chemical weapons.  These are highlighted as models of how the international community can work together to make meaningful progress on pollution and health.

The successes come from a range of approaches: old-fashioned techniques (such as the removal and replacement of contaminated soil) and clever innovations, such as a contraption for recapturing mercury vapors. It also reviews technical methods such as chemical interventions, bioremediation and bioaccumulation, which can involve the use of cow dung, molasses and worms.



Despite a worldwide call for nominations, success stories were hard to come by. The Blacksmith report notes that, "across developing countries, environmental legislation, enforcement and even engineers trained in hazardous waste removal are just beginning to emerge."  Although pollution remediation is highly effective, the pace of clean up lags behind other public health initiatives due to a lack of resources and attention from the international community.  

The stated purpose of this year's report is “to begin to create broad support in the international community for a global commitment to support these positive developments in order to eliminate the health impacts of toxic pollution in developing countries.”

Many of the solutions address problems identified in Blacksmith Institute's 2008 report on the World's Worst Pollution Problems, including indoor and urban air pollution, untreated sewage, contaminated groundwater, lead poisoning from car battery recycling, mercury pollution from artisanal gold mining, and nuclear contamination.

While focusing on successes, the report also goes on to indicate what the remaining challenges are and what needs to be done to address them. In many countries, economic growth and pollution still go hand-in-hand. Unregulated industries pollute the environment and sicken the community while also providing financial lifelines. As it becomes clear that the effects of endemic pollution on emerging economies can last for decades, efforts to put basic regulatory laws in place are starting to take hold.



The following 10 programs, alphabetically listed by location and unranked, are included in the report as examples of successful efforts to reduce the toll of pollution on human health:

  • * Accra, Ghana: the broad commercialization of innovative cooking stoves to reduce indoor air pollution that causes respiratory illnesses among women and children;
  • * Candelaria, Chile: comprehensive copper tailings disposal and water conservation treatment system;
  • * Chernobyl-affected areas, Eastern Europe: medical, psychological and pedagogical interventions to improve the lives and livelihoods of those living in the zone of radiation contamination;
  • * Delhi, India: highly effective public policies to reduce the vehicle emissions that cause urban air pollution responsible for respiratory illnesses;
  • * Haina, Dominican Republic: removal of soil contaminated by the improper recycling of used car batteries to reduce lead levels in children's blood;
  • * Kalimantan, Indonesia: new techniques to reduce mercury poisoning from artisanal gold mining;
  • * Old Korogwe, Tanzania: removal of a stockpile of pesticides (e.g., DDT) responsible for contaminating soil and a nearby river, poisoning the local residents;
  • * Rudnaya Pristan Region, Russia: removal of lead-contaminated soil in children's playgrounds in order to lower blood lead levels in children;
  • * Shanghai, China: 12-year program to clean up sewage in an urban waterway that supplies drinking water to millions;
  • * West Bengal, India: reduction in arsenic poisoning through treatment of naturally occurring arsenic in well water.


Two initiatives with worldwide impact are also included:

  • * Leaded Gas Phase Out: a global effort by governments, multilateral agencies and the private sector to eliminate lead in gasoline that causes neurological damage
  • * Chemical Weapons Convention: an international treaty to eliminate chemicals used as  agents of warfare.




The remediation programs described in the report were identified by canvassing international agencies for exemplary projects as well as through independent Blacksmith research. From an initial list of 47 candidates, pilot projects were culled from the pool because of their limited impact and uncertain potential for scalability. Projects that were highly controversial were also eliminated from the pool, because no reliable judgment could be made about their value within the scope of this report.  The remaining projects were reviewed by a panel of international environmental and health experts that comprise Blacksmith Institute's Technical Advisory Board. The Board includes researchers from Johns Hopkins, Bloomberg School for Public Health, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, Emory University and City University of New York.  Since no comprehensive listing of cleanup projects exists, the list is necessarily an approximation rather than a definitive assessment. 



"While some of these solutions rely on innovation, most of the technical solutions to these problems are already known," says Fuller. "The hard part is getting all the stakeholders to agree on a course of action and to allocate funding. That requires community participation, education, coordination, and expertise."  

To that end, Blacksmith Institute is coordinating an international effort to create a $500 million - $1 billion USD Health and Pollution Fund (HPF) ( to finance the cleanup of toxic sites and eliminate life-threatening pollution. 

As part of the HPF, Blacksmith Institute is currently conducting a survey of polluted sites, the Global Inventory Project (GIP), to document and assess a total of about 3000 locations in more than 80 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.  Funded with $1 million USD from the European Union, the GIP is an international partnership between Blacksmith Institute, Green Cross Switzerland and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.

The worst sites in the GIP would be ranked for cleanup under the HPF, which will be supported by governments and multilateral donors. Once these sites are cleaned, toxic pollution would, for the most part, be eliminated in the developing world.



Since 2006, Blacksmith Institute's yearly reports have been instrumental in increasing public understanding of the health impacts posed by the world's worst polluted places, and in some cases, have compelled cleanup work at these sites.  Previous reports have identified the top ten world's worst polluted places or pollution problems.  Blacksmith reports have been issued jointly with Green Cross Switzerland since 2007.  Read all reports at 


About Blacksmith Institute

Blacksmith Institute is an international not-for-profit organization dedicated to solving life-threatening pollution issues in the developing world.  A global leader in this field, Blacksmith addresses a critical need to identify and clean up the world’s worst polluted places.  Blacksmith focuses on places where human health, especially that of women and children, is most at risk. Based in New York, Blacksmith works cooperatively in partnerships that include governments, the international community, NGOs and local agencies to design and implement innovative, low-cost solutions to save lives.  Since 1999, Blacksmith has completed over 30 projects; Blacksmith is currently engaged in over 40 projects in 19 countries. Learn more at

About Green Cross Switzerland

Green Cross Switzerland facilitates overcoming consequential damages caused by industrial and military disasters and the clean-up of contaminated sites from the period of the Cold War. Central issues are the improvement of the living quality of people affected by chemical, radioactive and other types of contamination, as well as the promotion of a sustainable development in the spirit of co-operation instead of confrontation. This includes the involvement of all stakeholder groups affected by a problem. Learn more at


Press Contact:  Magdalene Sim, , 646-742-0200