Hell on earth: The 10 most polluted places on the planet

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SUMGAYIT, AZERBAIJAN

Affected people: 275,000
Pollutants: Organic chemicals, oil, heavy metals including mercury.
Source: Petrochemical and industrial sites

Once a Soviet centre of industry and the location of more than 40 rubber, chlorine and pesticides factories, Sumgayit is now home to piles of untreated sewage and mercury-contaminated sludge. Cancer rates are up to 50 per cent higher than the rest of Azerbaijan and a birth defects are common.

SUKINDA, INDIA

Affected people: 2,600,000
Pollutants: Hexavalent chromium and other metals
Source: Chromite mines and processing

Home to 97 per cent of India's chromite deposits, Sukinda's mines spew out millions of tons of waste rock into the rivers that residents drink from. A quarter of nearby residents have pollution-related illnesses

TIANJIN, CHINA

Affected people: 140,000
Pollutants: Lead and other heavy metals
Source: Mining and processing

Tianjin, one of China's largest lead-production bases, has no pollution controls. Forced to breathe air with 10 times the legal levels of lead, residents suffer lower IQs, impaired growth and brain damage.

CHERNOBYL, UKRAINE

Affected people: Initially 5.5m, now disputed
Pollutants: Radioactive dust
Source: Meltdown of reactor core in 1986

From 1992 to 2002, 4,000 youngsters born in and around the 19-mile exclusion zone that still exists around the destroyed reactor developed thyroid cancer. Five million people still live in contaminated areas.

DZERZINSK, RUSSIA

Affected people: 300,000
Pollutants: Chemicals and toxic by-products, including Sarin and VX gas. Also lead, phenols.
Source: Cold War-era chemical weapons manufacturing. The principal site of chemical weapons production during the Cold War, Dzerzinsk is now a centre of chemical manufacturing. Over a period of 70 years until 1998, 300,000 tons of chemical waste were dumped, leaching almost 200 chemicals into groundwater. The drinking water is heavily contaminated and the life expectancy for men is just 42.

NORILSK, RUSSIA

Affected people: 134,000
Pollutants: Air pollution - particulates, sulphur dioxide, heavy metals (nickel, copper, cobalt, lead, selenium), phenols, hydrogen sulphide.
Source: The mining and processing of nickel and other related metals.

The snow is black in Norilsk, and 16 per cent of child deaths at the former Siberian slave labour camp are caused by respiratory illnesses related to the city's mining operations. Residents at the world's largest heavy metals smelting complex suffer a horrifying range of illnesses including respiratory illnesses and lung cancer. Birth defects are common.

VAPI, INDIA

Affected People: 71,000
Pollutants: Chemicals, heavy metals
Source: Industry estates

At the end of India's 400 km-long "Golden Corridor" of industrial estates, Vapi has more than 50 factories producing petrochemicals, fertilisers, dyes and paint, discharging dangerous levels of pollutants into the groundwater. Doctors report a high incidence of respiratory diseases and spontaneous abortions.

KABWE, ZAMBIA

Affected people: 255,000
Pollutants: Lead, cadmium
Source: Lead mining and processing

Children in Kabwe still bathe in the heavily polluted river that runs from the town's lead mine, which ran without safeguards from 1902 to 1994. Many have blood lead levels considered fatal.

LINFEN, CHINA

Affected People: 3,000,000
Pollutants: Fly-ash, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, arsenic, lead.
Source: Automobile and industrial emissions

Linfen's residents are forced to breathe the toxic output from hundreds of unregulated mines, factories and refineries. Clinics report an explosion in bronchitis, pneumonia and lung cancer.

LA OROYA, PERU

Affected people: 35,000
Pollutants: Lead, copper, zinc, sulphur dioxide.
Source: Heavy-metal mining and processing

The US owners of a metallic smelter in this mining town have failed to clean up the plant, which exposes residents to toxic emissions and waste. Ninety-nine per cent of children living in or around La Oyroya have blood lead levels that exceed safe limits and acid rain caused by sulphur dioxide in the air has decimated vegetation in the area.

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