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(In Sept. 12 story, official correction to identify Chinese site in paragraph 7 as Tianying) (for related factbox see ENVIRONMENT-POLLUTION/ (FACTBOX) or [ID:nN12252363])
By Timothy Gardner
NEW YORK, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Four of the world's 10 most polluted places are in Russia and two former Soviet republics, an independent environmental group said in a report released on Wednesday.
Encompassing seven countries, the top 10 sites may cause some 12 million people to suffer health problems ranging from asthma and other respiratory ailments to birth defects and premature death, the New York-based Blacksmith Institute said.
"These places are sapping the strength of the populations around them, and it's not rocket science to fix them," Richard Fuller, the nonprofit group's founder and director told reporters on a conference call.
He said simple engineering projects could make many of the places safe, but that funds, political will, and technical ability were often lacking.
Concern about polluted places is growing as the world's population swells and people in developing countries like China and India buy more cars and electronics -- habits that had been limited mainly to rich countries like the United States.
The polluted sites in Russia and the former Soviet republics include Dzerzhinsk, Russia, which until the end of the Cold War was one of the country's major chemical weapons centers, and Chernobyl, Ukraine, where the world's worst nuclear accident occurred in 1986, Blacksmith said its second annual report.
China and India each has two sites in the top 10. Linfen, China, is in Shanxi Province, the heart of country's expanding coal industry, while Tianying is one of the country's largest lead production bases. In Tianying, residents, particularly children, suffer lead poisoning symptoms such as learning disabilities, brain damage and kidney malfunction.
In La Oroya, Peru, another top 10 site, heavy metal mining has left 99 percent of children with higher than acceptable levels of lead in their blood, the report said.
In Kabwe, Zambia, children who play in the soil near heavy metal mining operations and young men who scavenge the metal, have lead poisoning levels close to those regarded as potentially fatal, Blacksmith said.
The institute, which worked on the report with Green Cross Switzerland, did not rank the top sites because the quality of health information from each country varies.
The polluted sites are often in remote mountain areas, especially those linked to mining, which can complicate the gathering of health data, the report said.
Blacksmith has amassed data over the last seven years on 400 sites to come up with the list that can be seen at www.worstpolluted.com. This year, the institute also listed the "Dirty 30," which includes the top 10 sites. In the expanded list, Russia and former Soviet republics have 10 sites, and China six.
No U.S. sites were in the group's top 10 because pollution laws there have led to the cleanup of heavily polluted areas since the 1970s.
Consumers in rich countries could be indirectly responsible for some of the pollution, however. "Much of the nickel in U.S. cars and lead in car batteries may have come from these places," Fuller said.
The annual list was compiled with help from specialists at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Hunter College in New York, India's ITT, the University of Idaho, Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York and others.