Among the top ten countries with the highest rates of death attributed to pollution, six of them are in Africa, according to the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution. Africa also suffers from a high incidence of DALYs (Disability-Adjusted Life Years) from pollution, exceeded in this respect only by Southeast Asia.
In 2019, Pure Earth was invited to join the Chemical Observatory Project, or ChemObs for short, a partnership between UNEP, WHO and the Africa Institute. ChemObs aims to provide participating African countries with the ability to establish evidence-based policies and make sustainable decisions on sound management of chemicals and related disease burdens. Moreover, it will help enable countries to meet their reporting obligations under the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, and thus Sustainable Development Goal 12.4.1.
There are five participating African countries. These pilot countries include include Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, Gabon, and Ethiopia.
Pure Earth was included in this effort as a result of its extensive experience and authority in identifying toxic waste sites in low- and middle- income countries.
A major component of the ChemObs project is to develop tools that can help build an integrated surveillance and information management system for chemicals of public health concern, such as lead and mercury. Pure Earth was tasked with producing an Economic Cost of Inaction Calculator that calculates attributable Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs), full scale intellectual quotient (IQ) decrement, and economic costs resulting from chemical exposure.
The calculator, built on Microsoft Excel, provides the economic cost (in dollars) of inaction on chemicals management in a certain area or site. The model is not intended to produce a definitive calculation of health and economic outcomes, but rather an indicative estimate based on the best available information. In short, Pure Earth’s calculator seeks to predict the economic cost of inaction.
Jack Caravanos, Pure Earth’s Director of Research, was the lead science advisor on the Economic Cost of Inaction Calculator component.
“ChemObs was started in order to provide countries with the tools and knowledge necessary to develop a strategic plan for identifying sites to remediate,” said Caravanos. “A better approach is needed so that all low- and middle- income countries can do their own toxic contamination assessments, rather than rely on outside groups. We are sharing our talents and metrics so that participating countries may prioritize projects based on the greatest rewards in terms of public health.”
The project also developed two additional tools used for prioritizing chemical waste sites. MapX, a sophisticated GIS tool, was produced by UNEP and UNEP/GRID-Geneva and adapted to ChemObs. MapX is an open-source web mapping platform, which aims to support the sustainable use of natural resources by increasing access to the best available geospatial information, technology, and monitoring tools.
The Relative Risk and Vulnerability calculator, developed by the Pesticide Action Network of UK (PAN-UK), assists in determining which sites/sources of chemical pollution to prioritize for risk reduction activities. Specifically, it produces a relative risk assessment of pollutants.
Presently, consultants from each of the pilot countries are assembling the sites and ranking their environmental health liability according to the tools. A final country report, including a prioritized list of contaminated sites, will be submitted by the country consultants to UNEP for review. Thereafter, a number of sites will be targeted for funded cleanup.
This post was written by Pure Earth’s Communications Associate, Sarah Berg.