A New York City-based non-governmental organization found that most of the world's polluted places or those exposed to dangerous levels of toxic chemic are found in Asia, with the Soviet Union having the most and experiencing the worst ill effects.
In a report by the ABC, quoting data contained in a recent report released by the Blacksmith Institute, it said there are currently more than one million around the world who are subjected to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals, which include industrial chemicals, pesticides, radionuclides, and heavy metals, that come from mining activities as well as industry, agriculture and weapons manufacture.
"The scope of (global) health impact is comparable to AIDS/HIV, or malaria, and that should call us into action to deal with this problem," Richard Fuller, Blacksmith Institute president, said.
Among the ten most polluted places listed in the latest report, it is Russia, primarily the city of Dzerzhinsk, which has "by far and away the worst problems" spurred by its exposure to waste from the manufacturing of chemical weapons.
"In places, the chemicals have turned the water into a white sludge containing dioxins and high levels of phenol - an industrial chemical that can lead to acute poisoning and death. These levels are reportedly 17 million times the safe limit," Blacksmith Institute said.
According to Dzerzhinsk city's own figures, more than 270,000 tonnes of chemical waste were poorly disposed of between 1930 and 1998. As of 2007, the average life expectancy in the city with 250,000 people was 42 years old for men and 47 years old for women.
China and India, touted emerging economies and potential world leaders, are also breeding grounds to great levels of pollution at poorly regulated spots.
Linfen and Tianying cities of China have been found to host the worst levels of air pollution and exposure to lead, respectively. Linfen's three million residents literally choke on coal dust, what with the presence of fly ash, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and arsenic in the atmosphere. At the centre of the nation's coal industry, it was found that there are high levels of bronchitis, pneumonia and lung cancer and lead poisoning present in the sick, especially in the children.
In Tianying, many of the 140,000 residents exposed to lead poisoning risk suffering from "lead encephalopathy, lower IQs, short attention spans, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, impaired physical growth, hearing and visual problems, stomach aches, irritation of the colon, kidney malfunction, anaemia and brain damage."
In India, the effects of the Bhopal industrial accident of December 1984 continue to be felt until today. "More than 26 years have passed since the disaster, yet thousands in Bhopal continue to suffer and die from chronic illnesses, with as many as 500,000 people suffering ill health as a result," Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, a senior advisor to the National Toxics Network, an Australian NGO based in Bangalow NSW, said.
"In 1989, Union Carbide (the US company responsible) agreed a financial settlement...yet most victims didn't get enough to cover medical expenses. The site was never cleaned up and still contains the evaporation ponds where toxic effluent was dumped. The contaminated groundwater continues to poison residents today. High numbers of infants in the affected communities are born with congenital defects and cerebral palsy and residents drinking the contaminated groundwater have higher rate of skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases."
In Kasargod, India, 20 years of aerial spraying of cashew nut plantations has left a legacy of disease, death and deformity, where "numerous congenital, reproductive and long-term neurological and other effects have been experienced, including congenital deformities, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, lowered IQ, delayed development (and) cancer."
Sukinda, in India's state of Orissa, has 97 per cent of India's reserves of chromite ore and holds one of the world's largest open-cast chromite mines. Mine workers are thus consistently exposed to chromium VI contaminated dust and water, which have led to gastrointestinal bleeding, tuberculosis, asthma, infertility and birth defects. Twenty times the international standard for chromium VI has likewise been detected in the drinking water. Around 85 per cent of deaths in the mining areas and nearby industrial villages, according to the Orissa Voluntary Health Association, have a link to chromite mining operations.
Others included in the top ten list of the world's polluted places were central Kalimantan province, Indonesia due to mercury poisoning; Sumgayit, Azerbaijan due to organic chemicals; Chernobyl, Ukraine due to radiation exposure; and, the Arctic Canada due to persistent organic pollutants.
There are many badly polluted sites around the world, according to Mr Fuller. In fact, more than 2,500 sites in the developing world have been flagged with the most toxic threats
"It's difficult for experts to select the absolute worst offenders," he said.
"All of the sites that I have visited are tragic, horrible, shocking places that make your stomach turn," Mr Fuller said. "Often physical deformity is evident. These are not places I will bring my kids."