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1. Sumgayit, Azerbaijan: The Most Polluted City in 2007

Country: Azerbaijan
Location: Sumgayit, Azerbaijan


Pollutants affecting the area include organic chemicals, petrochemicals, and heavy metals including mercury. Known carcinogens are also included in the list of pollutants.

Area Affected

Roughly some 275,000 people in the city of Sumgayit are directly affected by the pollutants emitted from factories in the city. Waste dumped from the city directly into the Caspian Sea has created a dead zone where no life exists extending even into the fishing zones.


Sumgayit was once the crown jewel of industrial production for the Soviet Union. The city was host to over 40 factories producing everything from rubber to detergents to aluminum. The city was very attractive to workers because then, as now, a factory worker could make even more than a doctor. Of course, the goverment did not disclose the harmful nature of the chemicals people worked with day after day, so the workers went on in ignorance.

As a "safety measure" a one kilometer wide buffer zone was created between industrial and residential areas. For any real measure of safety a buffer zone of at least twelve kilometers should have been erected. Untreated sewage and sludge from the factories are dumped haphazardly, sometimes into the ocean and othertimes into antiquated and overworked refining facilities. When the factories were fully operational, between 70,000 and 120,000 tons of harmful emissions were poured into the air annually. The citizens of Sumgayit, as a result, have been exposed to massive quantities of harmful pollutants for decades.

People, Animals, Plants and Waterways Effected

As previously mentioned, direct dumping of pollutants into the Caspian Sea has resulted in a dead zone reaching out into the water about twenty kilometers. Unfortunately, the human cost has been much higher over the years. During the Soviet rule the city had one of the highest morbidity rates in the country, and the legacy continues. Cancer rates are estimated to be 22-51% higher than in the rest of Azerbaijan, and deaths from cancer are about 8% higher. It is even believed that these numbers might be conservative due to under-reporting of cancer in the people.

The massive quantities of toxins in the area also have a devastating effect on the children and newborns of Sumgayit. Roughly 27 children out of 1,000 don't survive their first year, and many more are born stillborn or deformed. Common defects include spina bifida, anencephalia, Down Syndrome, and other effects including club feet and extra digits. In fact, Sumgayit actually has a separate cemetary for children because of the high mortality rates.

Clean up Activities

As of right now the goverment of Azerbaijan has obtained significant support from the international community towards clean-up efforts. The United Nations Development Programme and the World HEalth Organization have both pledged their help, and have also assisted in the creation of the Sumgayit  Centre for Environmental Rehabilitation. SCER's goal is to catergorize and prioritize which areas to pursue clean-up in first.

Also, in 2003 World Bank launched a $2.7 million dollar project to clean-up an abandoned chlorine factory where over 1.500 tons of mercury had been spilled. 

Thought has been given to closing the few remaining factories still running, but clean-up efforts would still be astronomical.


  • "Sumgayit: Soviet's Pride Azerbaijan's Hell" by Arif Islamzade
  • Blacksmith Institute's List of Top Ten Most Polluted Places in 2007
Submitted by cennywenny on Aug 28, 2008