The World's Worst Pollution Problems, 2012

Updated May 8, 2019 | Infoplease Staff

According to the Blacksmith Institute, "this report gives an overview of the range of pollution threats humans face throughout the world." Each problem listed below exists in more than one location around the world, so they are truly global issues.

  1. Lead-Acid Battery Recycling: Lead Pollution
    The most common example of a lead acid battery is a car battery. When these batteries can no longer hold a charge, they have to be disposed of, but scavenging them and opening them up to extract the lead has become a cottage industry in the developing world. The lead is valuable, but it also puts everyone near it at severe risk for lead poisoning.
  2. Lead Smelting: Lead Pollution
    Lead processing and smelting plants work with both primary and secondary lead. Primary lead is mined, separated from ore, and refined into various products, whereas secondary lead is recovered from used objects - such as used lead-acid batteries - for reuse in other products. Smelting is a key process in lead product production, and involves heating lead
    ore or recovered lead with chemical reducing agents. Both secondary and primary smelting processes can be responsible for releasing large amounts of lead contamination into the surrounding environment.
  3. Mining and Ore Processing: Mercury Pollution
    Elemental mercury occurs naturally in the earth and is a liquid metal. Most mercury forms in a sulfide ore called cinnabar. Separating mercury from cinnabar can release mercury vapor, which is highly toxic, into the atmosphere. Waste rock and tailings from mercury mining, and other extraction processes where mercury is uncovered, can still contain small or large amounts of the toxic substance. Mercury that is not processed or claimed during mining and ore processing can make its way into the environment if the mining waste is not stored properly.
  4. Tannery Operations: Chromium Pollution
    The processing of leather creates not only potentially toxic wastewater, but also large amounts of solid waste that contain chromium such as: hide scraps, skins, and excess fats. Toxins from this waste can leach into nearby soil and water, placing nearby residents at risk of contamination.
  5. Industrial/Municipal Dump Sites: Lead and Chromium
    Waste at industrial or municipal dumpsites can include waste from batteries, scrap metal, agricultural, and hospitals, households and chemical waste from industrial processes. Polluted dumpsites generally consist of two different types of waste disposal, open dumpsites and municipal landfills. Open dumpsites are unregulated informal sites where individuals or industries dump a variety of solid or liquid waste with no formal treatment or pollution controls.I
  6. Industrial Estates: Lead Pollution
    Industrial Estates are planned, zoned areas that are set aside for a variety of industries, offices, and production.Unfortunately, in many low- and middle-income countries, industrial estates have little to no waste
    treatment and disposal infrastructure, and they are often located near populated areas. In the case of an industrial estate that has no pollution control mechanisms, lead, which is often a main contaminant caused by industrial estates, can be released into surrounding air, soil, water, and food.
  7. Artisanal Gold Mining: Mercury Pollution
    Artisanal mining uses rudimentary methods to extract and process minerals and metals on a small scale. Artisanal miners frequently use toxic materials, including mercury, in their attempts to recover metals and gems. These toxic materials can be released into the environment, posing large health risks to the miners, their families and surrounding communities.
  8. Product Manufacturing: Lead and Chromium
    Polluted manufacturing sites include textiles, electronics, food, fuel, plastics and metals. However, there are many more types of manufacturing that fall under this umbrella term, including raw materials, agricultural products, building products, pulp and paper mills and much more. According to the National Association of Manufacturers the top four largest manufacturing industries were food, chemicals, computers and electronics and metal products.
  9. Chemical Manufacturing: Chromium and Lead
    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes the following as chemical manufacturing: basic chemicals including pigments, dyes, gases and petrochemicals; synthetic materials like plastics; paint products, cleaning products; and other chemicals including film, ink and explosives. Pharmaceutical manufacturing is also considered under the umbrella of chemical manufacturing. During the production of these chemicals and products, dangerous by-products and waste are often generated.
  10. Dye Industry: Chromium, Lead, Cadmium
    Dyes are used primarily in the production of consumer products, including paints, textiles, printing inks, paper, and plastics. These constantly evolving demands result in a highly fluctuating and diverse waste stream. The textile industry is one of the largest sectors globally and produces an astonishing 60 billion kilograms of fabric annually, using up to 9 trillion gallons of water. This massive water use is a key component of pollution. Water is used as cooling water, to clean equipment, and for rinsing and processing dyes and products.

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