For the first time since 2007, the Blacksmith Institute based in New York and Green Cross Switzerland are pointing fingers on not just what, but where in the world the toxic threats are the worst.
In previous years, the two institutes have identified the top toxic threats and clean-up successes as seen on a global scale. Last year's number one threat for example was lead exposure from lead-acid rechargeable car battery recycling sites.
"In this year's report, we cite some of the most polluted places we've encountered. But it is important to point out that the problem is really much larger than these ten sites," says Richard Fuller, president of Blacksmith Institute in a press release. "We estimate that the health of more than 200 million people is at risk from pollution in the developing world."
Some of the sites listed in the 2007 report are still so devastating to human health as to be included again in 2013, those sites are marked here with an * at the top of this list. Others, such as two sites in China, have made enough improvements to be removed from this list and replaced with other areas such as Agbobloshie, an e-waste processing site in Accra, Ghana, and Kalimantan, Indonesia, which has become contaminated with mercury resulting from small-scale gold mining. The list, presented here is not ranked.
What's needed to help recycle 215,000 tons of secondhand consumer electronics in Ghana? Something better than hand wire-stripping tools, which were introduced in 2010 as an attempt reduce the still prevalent practice of burning sheathed cables to recover the interior copper.
"Styrofoam packaging is utilized as a fuel to burn the material in open areas. Cables can contain a range of heavy metals, including lead. To some extent, these metals can migrate through particulate in the smoke, while significant amounts are also left behind on area soils," reported the institutes. They site lead levels as high as 18,125 ppm found in the soil around Agbogbloshie near food markets and homes. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency standard for lead in soil is 400 ppm.
Currently, the Blacksmith Institute and partners are working to mechanize the wire-stripping process. Their plan is to introduce work stations equipped with machines that would wire-strip the cables, centralizing the recycling process and reducing wide-spread communal exposures to air pollution.