Sukinda valley in Orissa in eastern India and Vapi in Gujarat in the west are among the ten most polluted spots on earth, according to a report by the US-based Blacksmith Institute. While Sukinda is ranked 4th, the very next ladder of dubious honour goes to Vapi. The institute's advisory board picked up the top in the list from what the institute calls the "Dirty Thirty", a larger list of the 30 worst polluted areas in different parts of the world.
Not surprisingly, the list is dominated by fast-growing economies. Four Indian cities and six cities each from Russia and China are among them. The bad news for India is that neither Sukinda nor Vapi, or indeed, any other place in India was in the top 10 in the 2006 report by the same institute. Sukinda has the largest chromite ore deposits in India and also has the largest opencast chromite mine in the world
Approximately 70% of the surface water and 60% of the drinking water contain hexavalent chromium, caused by the dumping of waste products. The air and soil are also heavily polluted.
The report quotes Orissa Voluntary Health Association figures, according to which, almost 9 out of 10 deaths occurring in the mining area and nearby industrial villages are chromite-related. Also, nearly one-fourth of the people in neighbouring villagers are suffering from pollution-induced diseases, which include gastrointestinal bleeding, tuberculosis, asthma, infertility, birth defects and stillbirths.
Vapi houses more than 50 industrial estates and over 1,000 independent industries. The industries are mainly chemical and tanning related. Vapi is equally affected by all kinds of pollution. The air is polluted because of discharges of hazardous oxides. The groundwater contains 96 times higher mercury than the safety norm and the soil is contaminated by heavy metals. gastrointestinal bleeding, tuberculosis, asthma, infertility, birth defects and stillbirths.
Respiratory diseases, chemical dermatitis, carcinoma, skin, lung and throat cancers are frequently reported by the residents. Women in the area report exceedingly high incidences of spontaneous abortions, bleeding during pregnancy and abnormal fetuses, says the Blacksmith report.
According to a survey conducted by a Supreme Court monitoring committee, approximately 1,800 tonnes of hazardous sludge has accumulated at the common effluent treatment plant (CETP) of Maharashtra in western India.
An obvious pattern is that most of the places are located in the developing world. Again, mining, metallurgy and tanning industries are responsible for the pollution at almost half of these places.
A World Bank special study on trade and environment showed that industrialised countries' share of global manufacturing exports has declined from 91% to 81%. Most of this decline was recorded in labour-intensive sectors such as textiles, apparel, footwear and other light manufacturing. Although labour cost may have been the main factor in the shift, most of these are also polluting industries.
D Raghunandan, secretary of Delhi Science Forum, says that with most developing economies being less strict about pollution norms, polluting industries have tended to concentrate in these countries.