The 10 Most Polluted Places In The World

From Ghana’s sprawling electronic waste dump to the gold mines of Borneo, these are places that you won’t add to your bucket list of travel plans, but which are killing all the people who don’t have a choice about living there.

The U.S. has some terribly polluted places. But it’s safe to say there’s nothing here to the level of Agbogbloshie, in Ghana, the world’s second biggest electronic waste dump. Or Kalimantan, in Borneo, where mercury vapors–the byproduct of gold mining–fill the air. Or the Matanza-Riachuelo, in Argentina, where 15,000 factories dump effluent directly into the river.


A new report from the New York-based Blacksmith Institute and the Green Cross, a nonprofit in Switzerland, names the world’s 10 most polluted places. While it doesn’t make for pleasant reading, the report shines a light on an under-acknowledged problem. Environmental pollution is a major cause of disease, particularly among children, many of whom are running freely around places like Agbogbloshie. Up to 200 million people around the world are exposed to toxic chemicals regularly.

Here are the 10 most polluted places, and you can see images of the horror above.

  1. Agbogbloshie, Ghana: Lead. Up to 40,000 people affected.
  2. Chernobyl, Ukraine: Radioactive dust including uranium, plutonium, cesium-137, strontium-90, and other metals. Up to 10 million people affected.
  3. Citarum River, Indonesia: Numerous chemicals including lead, cadmium, chromium, and pesticides. 500,000+ people directly affected, up to 5 million people indirectly.
  4. Dzershinsk, Russia: Numerous chemicals and toxic byproducts from numerous chemical-manufacturing processes. 300,000 people affected.
  5. Hazaribagh, Bangladesh: Mainly Chromium. 160,000 people affected.
  6. Kabwe, Zambia: Lead. More than 300,000 people affected.
  7. Kalimantan, Indonesia: Primarily mercury, cadmium. More than 225,000 people affected.
  8. Matanza Riachuelo, Argentina: Volatile organic compounds, including toluene. More than 200,000 people affected.
  9. Niger River Delta, Nigeria: Petroleum. No one agrees on how many people are affected.
  10. Norilsk, Russia: Copper, nickel oxide, other heavy metals. 135,000 affected.

“The strikingly high number of people at risk established toxic pollution as a public health threat equivalent to more highly publicized public health problems such as malaria and tuberculosis,” says the Blacksmith/Green Cross report. “Even though toxic pollution remains a far less well-known problem, it is believed to have a similar impact on death and disability in developing countries as many well-known and well-funded diseases.”

Take a deeper look into the hellscape of the world’s most polluted place with these images of Agbogbloshie.

Blacksmith/Green Cross says it chose the top 10 for “severity of their risk to health” and to draw attention to issues like e-waste and “artisanal” gold mining, which produces 30% of worldwide mercury emissions. Agbogbloshie and Kalimantan are not the sort of places you want to visit in a hurry, at least not without a mask. But spare a thought for the people who live there.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.