Jack Caravanos has cut his way through jungles in Panama, climbed mountains in Peru, dodged cobras in India, and waded through murky rivers in the Dominican Republic, all to get a sample of contaminated soil, air or water. He has fallen and slipped but he proudly maintains that has never dropped a collection vial.
“Sometimes people call me a ‘lead head,'” says Jack, referring to his obsessive work assessing and remediating sites contaminated with toxic lead.
A global environmental health expert, Jack directs the M.S. and M.P.H. program in Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at Hunter College of the City University of New York. He became a member of Blacksmith’s Technical Advisory Board in 2005 when Blacksmith conducted its first survey of the world’s worst polluted places. “Richard (Fuller) needed some technical expertise to evaluate the health severity of these sites in relation to the population at large. So I volunteered my services,” says Jack. “I see myself as a science advisor.”
With Blacksmith, Jack hopes to conquer what he calls the “last frontier”– environmental health in the developing world, in particular the issue of lead pollution.
“When contrasted to the developing world, our air, water and land are magnitudes cleaner,” notes Jack. “In developing countries, the economic value of lead is so high that backyard car battery recyclers are everywhere. I see it all the time, in almost every city I visit. Mothers and fathers breaking up old car batteries to get at the lead. All the while their kids play nearby,” says Jack.
“This problem is so preventable yet we see thousands of kids worldwide sickened with lead poisoning. This is the crisis I want to focus on. This is what excites me and brings me to Blacksmith.”