Pollutant: Air Pollution

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1. Region: Africa

Country: Senegal

Artisanal Gold Mining in Kedougou, Senegal

Artisanal, or small scale gold mining (also called ASM) is one of the most significant sources of mercury release into the environment in the developing world, with at least a quarter of the world’s total gold supply coming from such sources. ASM miners combine mercury with gold-carrying silt. The gold and mercury combine to form an amalgam, making recovery of the gold easier. The amalgam is subsequently heated with blow torches or over an open flame so that the mercury burns off, and gold is left at a purity of 70 to 80 percent. The gaseous mercury is subsequently inhaled by the miners, or by their immediate family, including their children. Mercury which is not inhaled during the amalgamation process settles into the surrounding environment, or circulates globally at regional and global scales for future deposition far from the site, where it is absorbed and processed by a variety of living organisms. As a consequence of its misuse, mercury amalgamation results in the discharge of an estimated 1000 tons of mercury per annum which represents about 30% of the world’s anthropogenic mercury releases. It is estimated that between 10 and 15 million artisanal and small scale gold miners worldwide, including 4.5 million women and 600,000 children1. This process transforms elemental mercury into methylmercury. Methylmercury is one of the most toxic organic compounds and a powerful neurotoxin that works its way up the food chain through bioaccumulation. According to UNIDO, as much as 95 percent of all mercury used in ASM mining is released into the environment, constituting a danger on all fronts – economic, environmental and human health. There are a number of cleaner technology alternatives to current methods of mercury amalgamation. The use of retorts during the mercury burn-off stage is a simple and cost-effective way to decrease the occupational exposure to mercury and minimize its release into the environment. Retorts allow for the efficient capture and reuse of mercury. 1 Veiga, M.M., Baker, R. (2004). Protocols for Environmental and Health Assessment of Mercury Released by Artisanal and Small Scale Miners, Report to the Global Mercury Project: Removal of Barriers to Introduction of Cleaner Artisanal Gold Mining and Extraction Technologies, GEF/UNDP/UNIDO, 170p.

2. Region: Africa

Country: Senegal


In 1998, an international framework was established to improve air quality in Sub-Saharan Africa. The first regional conference was organized by the World Bank on June 26th, 2001 in Dakar, Senegal, to discuss the issue of leaded gasoline as a major source of emissions in traffic-heavy towns and cities in developing countries. The harmful health effects of lead exposure in children, such as brain and nervous system damage, prompted the "Dakar Declaration." This was a joint effort by the World Health Organization and 25 sub-Saharan countries, the oil industry, civil companies, and other international agencies to eliminate leaded gasoline by December 31, 2005.

As part of this project, Blacksmith Institute helped the state Environmental Department and AfricaClean (a local air quality monitoring group) to design and implement a monitoring routine for vehicle emissions. The result was to improve emissions standards and overall air quality.

3. Region: Eastern Europe & Central Asia

Country: Russia


The smelter town of Karabash lies in the Chelyabinskaya region of the south Urals, 1,300 kilometers southeast of Moscow. The town originally developed due to large copper deposits and in 1910 a smelter was built here specializing in the production of 'blister copper'. Immense sulfur dioxide emissions, fall-out of metal-rich particulates and mounds of black slag are thought to be responsible for higher incidences of birth defects, skin diseases and internal organ failure among the residents of this town.

4. Region: Eastern Europe & Central Asia

Country: Russia


Magnitogorsk in Western Russia lies on the banks of the Ural River. In the 1930's one of the largest Russian iron and steel works was established here that produced steel for half the Russian tanks during WW II. At optimum capacity it can produce up to 7.5 million tons of steel. The industry used to belch out 650,000 tons of industrial wastes, including 68 toxic chemicals, and polluted some 4,000 square miles of Russia. According to a steelworker, none of the filtering devices were in working condition.

5. Region: Eastern Europe & Central Asia

Country: Russia


Cherepovets, an industrial center 300 kilometers northeast of Moscow, is home to the Severstal steel plant, one of Russia’s largest steel plants. The plant was built in Soviet times and owned by the Ministry of Black Metallurgy of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). In 1965, a 5,000 meter-wide “sanitary security zone” was established around the steel plant (later reduced to 1,000 meter-wide in 1992). According to a letter from the Mayor of Cherepovets dated 3 June 2004, in 1999 the plant was responsible for more than 95 percent of industrial emissions into the town’s air. According to the State Report on the Environment for 1999, the Severstal plant was the largest contributor to air pollution of all metallurgical plants in Russia.

6. Region: South Asia

Country: India


Howrah foundry cluster is one of the oldest and largest cast iron foundry centers in the country, accounting for around 20% of the total castings produced in the country. A number of these units were closed down by the State Pollution Control Board. Though the industry is trying to clean up its own act by sponsoring research into cleaner technologies, 80% are small-scale operations and may find it difficult to do so without outside assistance, both technical and financial.

7. Region: South Asia

Country: India

Panki Katra Fly Ash Contamination

Coal is India’s most abundant resource, and it will continue to play a pivotal role in the country over the upcoming decades. There currently exist in India 82 coal-fired power plants, each of which uses around 1,000 tons of coal and produces about 13.34 tons of fly ash. Fly ash is, alone, a waste product and its responsible disposal poses a huge problem. From each power station, thousands of tons of fly ash are pumped into the ash ponds in the form of slurry (fly ash mixed with water) every day; these lagoons occupy millions of acres of agricultural land all over India.

When coal is burned in a plant, two types of ash are produced: fly ash and bottom ash. Fly ash, otherwise known as pulverized fuel ash, is the residue of coal combustion and is comprised of very fine, powerdy glass-like particles. Because it is so fine, it is highly susceptible to wind erosion; its light color – grayish white – reflects more light than dirt, raising surface temperature. Bottom ash refers to the non-combustible materials in coal, and is heavy and coarse. A mixture of both types of ash is called pond ash.

In the past, fly ash produced by thermal power plants, cement industries, railway track, etc. was simply taken up by flue gases and released into the atmosphere, creating significant environmental concerns. Studies have shown that fly ash dumping would continue to cause groundwater contamination, surface water contamination during flooding, and air pollution relative to dust emission via wind erosion if preventative measures were not taken.

8. Region: South Asia

Country: India

Singrauli: Pollution From Thermal Power Plants

Ever since 1840, when coal was discovered in Singrauli, the area's development has revolved around exploiting this natural resource. Singrauli has been nicknamed India’s “Energy Capital”. The five super thermal power plants in the Singrauli area, which supply 10% of India’s power, are responsible for 16% or 10 tons per annum of total mercury pollution through power generation. According to, Singrauli presently accounts for 10% of total Indian and 0.3% of global carbon dioxide emission, a major reason for global warming.

A widely cited but unpublished study by Electricité de France reveals that Singrauli's thermal power plants release about 720 kilograms of mercury per year. The UN cited an Indian Central Pollution Control board estimate that "17 percent of power plant mercury emissions are from the Singrauli region." Fly ash, the byproduct of coal combustion, is also a significant problem. The coal-burning power plants release about six million tons of fly ash a year, making land unfit for cultivation. In parts of Singrauli, the fly ash lies in piles five feet thick.

Singrauli is one of the twenty-two critically polluted areas identified by the Central Pollution Control Board.

9. Region: South Asia

Country: India

Gujarat Stakeholders Group

The golden corridor in Gujarat extends from Vapi in the south to Ahmedabad in the north. There are over 50 industrial estates in this region, most house over a thousand industries (some being chemical estates) and many are spread over a thousand acres.

10. Region: Southeast Asia

Country: Cambodia

Technical Guidelines for Air Quality Monitoring

Cambodia is undergoing rapid development and subsequent population and industrial growth. Air quality is deteriorating as a result of industrial and handicraft processes as well as fossil fuel combustion. As of 2004, air quality monitoring activities were inadequate as there was no established technical guideline. While environmental conditions and human health are being threatened by poor air quality, setting technical monitoring guidelines was of utmost importance. Blacksmith Institute worked with the Cambodia Ministry of Environment's Department of Pollution Control on setting guidelines to help governments derive legally enforceable air quality standards. Moreover, the organizations devised action plans to carry out local control measures and to advise environmental health authorities and professionals.

Many scientific studies have linked breathing polluted air full of particulate matter to a series of significant health problems, including: aggravated asthma, coughing, painful breathing, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, and premature death. Acceptance and promotion of these guidelines was thus an extremely important step in developing a full air quality monitoring and enforcement system in Cambodia.

11. Region: Southeast Asia

Country: Indonesia

Artisanal Gold Mining - Central Kalimantan

UNIDO estimates that mercury amalgamation from this kind of gold mining results in the release of an estimated 1,000 tons of mercury per year, which constitutes about 30 percent of the world’s anthropogenic mercury emissions. It is estimated that between 10 and 15 million artisanal and small-scale gold miners worldwide, including 4.5 million women and 600,000 children [1]. According to UNIDO, as much as 95 percent of all mercury used in artisanal gold mining is released into the environment, creating a danger on all fronts—economic, environmental and human health (2005). Covered by the 2008 World’s Worst Polluted Places Report, ASM still threatens today’s world environment and public health.