https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/pollution-related-deaths-in-state-alarming-study/articleshow/64900399.cms July 2018
(NOTE: Deadline Jan. 12, 2015 to apply for research grants. See below)
Over the past few years, Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth has embarked on a broad effort to expand research and understanding about the issue of toxic pollution, especially its damaging impact in low and middle-income countries, where pollution is the largest killer. Without data and information, one of the world’s biggest global problems will remain invisible.
“Although toxic pollution is one of the biggest global threats, cleanup has been slow partly because there has been a lack of data to chronicle the scope and reach of problem. And this void of knowledge is greatest in poor and middle-income countries. Without proper data and studies, the toxic pollution problems plaguing these nations cannot be solved.”
— Richard Fuller, president of Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth.
“Some scientists are at a disadvantage – they have no funds to support the write up of their research… As a result, not enough is written and published about the effects of toxic pollution in low and middle income countries.”
“… we are missing the full picture, missing local information. Research is going on but it is not known among funders of the world.”
— Sandy Page-Cook, Managing Editor of the Journal of Health and Pollution, in Teaching Scientists in Developing Countries to Write, Huffington Post, Dec. 2014
Blacksmith/Pure Earth is creating a crucial pipeline for this information to reach organizations like the World Bank, European aid agencies and others who have the vast funding needed to deal with threats to human health from pollution.
Our efforts have allowed us to paint the clearest picture to date of pollution’s devastating hold on the poisoned poor. More than one in seven deaths in the world are pollution-related. Here’s a snapshot of pollution’s global toll.
Here are three ways we are continuing to close this knowledge gap:
Calling all researchers and scientists, there is still time to apply for these grants – deadline January 12, 205. The grants are intended mainly to support researchers in their effort to write up their findings for publication in an international, peer-reviewed journal. Research work should focus on the scope, effects and remediation of toxic pollution in poor countries. Click on the link above to get details.
To date, over 100 researchers, including Kenyan scientist Faridah Hussein Were, have taken the free online course developed by Blacksmith/Pure Earth in collaboration with AuthorAID, to help researchers and scientists from low and middle-income countries improve their technical writing and editing skills with an eye to getting their views and findings in major international journals. The course will increase from five to ten weeks next year.
Published by Blacksmith/Pure Earth, the Journal of Health and Pollution (JH&P) is the only journal focused exclusively on low and middle-income countries. The online journal of peer reviewed research and news is an important pipeline of crucial data and analysis of this global problem in countries that are often underrepresented in major studies. In 2015, the journal will enter its fifth year.
When an airliner disappears into the Indian ocean and hundreds of people are assumed dead, it’s huge news and millions are spent to find it and understand what went wrong. But in Zamfara, Nigeria, in 2010, over 200 children died from lead exposure from local mining and hundreds more fell ill. It wasn’t big news. There was no worldwide interest or outrage.
— Dr. Jack Caravanos, Associate Professor of Environmental Health, City University of New York, School of Public Health, NY; Advisor to Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth.
Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth advisor Dr. Jack Caravanos recently addressed the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) at their annual conference in New Orleans about the far reaching, yet underreported global health impacts of toxic pollution.
The panel, Waste in the 21st Century, was moderated by ProPublica Energy reporter Abraham Lustgarten, and included Dr. Caravanos as well as Tom Carpenter (Waste Management, Inc.) and Kate Sinding (Natural Resources Defense Council).
If you missed it, listen to the audio of the discussion, or read Dr. Caravanos’ presentation notes below:
Today, I will be talking about the global burden of disease from toxic waste sites. The extent of the problem, how it’s measured and why is it’s important.
Let me start by explaining a reporting problem we have with environmental health disasters:
When an airliner disappears into the Indian ocean and hundreds of people are assumed dead, it is huge news and millions are spent to find it and understand what went wrong. But in Zamfara, Nigeria in 2010, over 200 children died from lead exposure from local mining and hundreds more ill. It was not big news. There was no worldwide interest or outrage.
When a strange odor wafts across the river in NYC and hundreds call to complain, it becomes major news and there are calls for action (even though no one was hospitalized.) But when dozens of villagers who use mercury to extract gold from ore in Bolivia are poisoned, few people write about it.
I can go on and on, but the delayed health response from exposure to toxic agents in the community or workplace, work against us when it comes to reporting the problem.
Rarely does environmental contamination kill dozens of people in one place at one time. It is a slow and steady effect.
So my message today is simple and I’ll state it up front : Toxic chemicals from industry and mining affect the health of hundreds of millions of people in low- and middle-income countries.
How do we know this?
Well about eight years ago, a group called Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth, founded by Richard Fuller (read this recent profile in Businessweek) started to make a list of the worst polluted places on the planet. By the way, Blacksmith/Pure Earth and the affiliated group the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) coordinate cleanup activities using a collaborative model.
So, I was starting a sabbatical at that time and Richard asked me to help out. Well our Toxic Sites Identification Program is now operating in 49 low-middle income countries and has assessed over 3,000 sites.
In the U.S. we would call these “Superfund sites” but the Blacksmith/Pure Earth list focuses more on human health impacts. If a site doesn’t present a real human health threat, we don’t include it. The superfund program doesn’t work quite the same way.
So what have we found is hundreds of sites contaminated with lead, mercury and chromium and the disease burden rivals that of many common diseases.
Before I elaborate on this statement, I need to explain the term “burden of disease.”
Years back, Christopher Murray and Allan Lopez developed a health metric while working with the WHO. The Disability Adjusted Life Years or DALY measures the years of life lost from a disease or exposure.
For example, my uncle Gus was a three-pack-a-day smoker and died of lung cancer at the age of 45. According to the life tables, he should have live to 80, so smoking took 35 years from his life or 35 DALYs. But this metric also measures illness and converts it into equivalent years lost. For example, living 40 years with untreated asthma equals about two years of life lost. I encourage you to read more on DALYs and the Wiki page is quite good. In analyzing our data, we learned that:
- In India, hexavalent chromium exposure causes more DALYs than multiple sclerosis, more than Parkinson’s disease and more than various cancers.
- In Indonesia, exposure to chromium and lead presented higher DALYs than conditions such as upper respiratory infections.
- In the Philippines, lead had more DALYs than malaria or HIV/AIDS. And those pictures of children with clef-palates that are used to solicit money? Well lead poisoning from these sites often generates much higher DALYs than that health condition.
So whether it is processing e-wastes, scavenging a landfill for recyclables or attempting to put a health number on fracking, more and more people using DALYs as the comparison health metric.
We published several papers on this and they are available online – read the GAHP Poisoned Poor report and the position paper “Pollution: The Largest Cause of Death in the Developing World.”
So, why you should care?
Well as you know, many of our products are manufactured oversees in countries with practically no pollution controls and few safety standards.
The large corporations that we all read about are easy targets for improvement, but our experience is that there are thousands of small-scale manufactures that are collectively a bigger problem.
So the moral question becomes, what is our role? Both as a society and as individuals, in preventing environmental health disease in countries that supply our shirts, shoes, jewelry and cosmetics?
We, in the U.S., have the technology to properly recycle batteries, to safely extract gold from ore, to ensure that lead does not leach out of pottery, to properly dispose of obsolete pesticides, to ensure materials are recycled without causing harm.
In NYC it is safe to swim in the harbor (if you are crazy enough to do that), our air has never been cleaner, our workplaces are safer, and our food supply is free of the pesticides Rachel Carson wrote about years ago.
The U.S. has some environmental health issues… but I’m concerned as we get cleaner, the rest of the world is getting dirtier.
Especially the low income countries. And who suffers the most? It is the poorest of the poor. So I do believe it is our obligation to transfer that technology and knowledge to others. So as I see it, not helping, is just not right.
And the solutions are simple and cost effective.
We have cleaned up old lead battery sites in Indonesia and the Dominican Republic for a fraction of what a U.S. Superfund cleanup costs. And now the environmental ministries in those countries know how it’s done.
So to reiterate, the health impact from exposure to toxic waste sites rivals that of other well-known and well-funded diseases.
As a matter of fact, the U.N.’s draft of the Sustainable Developmental Goals, recently omitted language addressing “toxics in the environment”. Fortunately, it looks like Blacksmith/Pure Earth was able to get the language reinstated.
- Tanneries in Bangladesh
- Lead mining in Zamfara
- Gold mining in Bolivia
- Battery breaking in Indonesia
- Obsolete pesticides in Armenia
UPDATE: Our voices are being heard at the U.N. Our call to #SpotlightPollution in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is making a difference. We’ve received 26 letters of support from governments, agencies, NGOs & universities. As a result, the zero draft of the SDGs released in late June has expanded the language on pollution to include “water and soil.”
The Open Working Group (OWG) met for the 13th time in July and continues its discussion of pollution as part of the post-2015 goals.
But it is not over. We need to ensure that pollution remains in the final SDGs. We need to continue to #SpotlightPollution. You can help. Sign and share this petition to help us spread the word.
It is a global emergency.
It kills about 8.4 million people a year and causes three times more deaths than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
The good news is that we know how to stop it.
The bad news is that the world seems to be turning a blind eye to its destruction.
This global killer is pollution.
New analysis of data from the World Health Organization (WHO) by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution points to pollution as the #1 cause of death in the developing world. Yet, pollution is virtually being ignored in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are currently being decided.
This week, the U.N.’s Open Working Group (OWG) on the SDGs is meeting in New York for its 12th session to refine and determine post-2015 goals. We are at the U.N. following it closely, working hard to make sure all voices about pollution are heard. It might be one of the final few opportunities we have to persuade the world to pay attention to the issue of pollution in the SDGs.
You can help. Sign and share this petition to help us spread the word.
Since the SDGs will determine what the world pays attention to over at least the next 15 years, and how funding to poor countries is allocated, it is crucial that all aspects of pollution is addressed in the SDGs.
Pollution: The invisible Killer
When the U.N.’s Open Working Group (OWG) on the SDGs met for the 11th session in May, we became alarmed when we learned that the focus on the health impact of pollution was greatly reduced in importance in the SDGs. In current drafts of the SDGs, pollution is mentioned only as a sub item in passing, and only air pollution is considered in the health objective.
At the recent Global Environment Facility (GEF) meeting in Mexico, pollution was also ignored. While about 1,000 people gathered to discuss climate change and biodiversity, the one event focused on pollution drew only 25 people to a side conference room for an hour.
This tendency to ignore pollution is worrying because the deaths of more than 8 million men, women and children in 2012 alone should not be an afterthought on the world’s agenda.
If the issues of poverty and sustainable development are the focus of the SDGs, pollution sits squarely in that intersection.
94% of the burden of disease from pollution falls on the poor in low- and middle-income countries that are least equipped to deal with the problem. Because it is no longer a huge health problem in the west, we seem to have forgotten about it. But in the poorer countries, it is the biggest cause of death of all.
“There is a reason why pollution is sometimes called the invisible killer,” says Richard Fuller, President of Pure Earth/Blacksmith Institute.
“While it is the single largest risk factor, unfortunately, its impact is difficult to track because health statistics measure disease, not pollution.”
“Pollution causes diseases like cancers, lung infections, and heart disease amongst others. Hospitals don’t measure what caused those diseases. But contaminated water, soil and air result in millions of additional diseases and deaths.”
“These are deaths we can avoid, if we prioritize addressing pollution.”
The Past, Present and Future
While climate change needs to be addressed to preserve our future, pollution cannot be ignored because it concerns our present.
For solutions, we just need to look at our past.
Cities in Europe and the U.S. that were once cloaked in pollution are now clean and livable because we have low-cost, workable solutions. We just need to apply these solutions to the developing world. Poor countries need access to that expertise and funding to implement them. And the SDGs will allow us to do that.
Strengthening the focus on pollution in the SDGs will force this global health crisis from the shadows into the spotlight so that it will no longer be known as the invisible killer.
In the poorest villages and cities across the world, many of the deaths from pollution are not noticed by anyone except the victim’s families.
Often, the poisoned poor often do not understand that their community is polluted, and they do not know why their children are dying.
For many like Seynabou Mbengue, it is already too late. The woman from Ngagne Diaw, Senegal, lost five children to pollution. They all fell ill with the same symptoms, and one by one, they all died before the age of five. Her toddlers were among some 32 children known to have perished from a lead poisoning outbreak
Her story is just one of millions we should tell so the world takes notice. Pollution’s toll has too many faces to ignore.
Join the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution to demand the need to spotlight pollution in the SDGs so that this global killer will not go unchecked. We have the solution. Now we just need the world to pay attention.
Happy Birthday Dev Patel!
Just three days after Patel’s 24th birthday on April 23, the young actor/activist helped Blacksmith launch a new campaign called Pure Earth at the inaugural Pure Earth benefit gala in NYC. Patel called Pure Earth “the single greatest present!”
With Patel’s help, we raised crucial money needed for cleaning up contaminated children’s play spaces and for conducting other life-saving remediation around the world.
We are grateful for his commitment and look forward to working with Patel on raising awareness about the threat toxic pollution poses to poor children who live in some of the world’s worst polluted places.
Why is he passionate about this crucial issue? Patel tells us:
Why is this issue important to you? Why did you choose to get involved?
First of all I believe that toxic pollution is an extremely underreported issue. Even I wasn’t aware of how big the problem was until a couple of years ago when I went on a research trip for a film project to Bhopal India. I witnessed first-hand the appalling conditions the poor families had to face every day who live near the Union Carbide factory, which is now an abandoned toxic hotspot. I was deeply moved by the struggles of these people and began to understand how industrial pollution in the soil and water can lead to birth defects, wide spread disease, high cancer rates, and low life expectancy. When Richard Fuller approached me to get involved with Blacksmith and their worldwide cleanup, I jumped at the opportunity.
Did your experience starring in SlumDog Millionaire motivate you to advocate for the “Poisoned Poor”?
At 17 years old, shooting in India was a very eye-opening experience. We shot in many slums in the city. Most of the families living in these slums are just trying to survive and don’t know the work they are doing is slowing killing them. It’s not as simple as going into these areas and shouting “Stop what you’re doing, it’s killing you”! In many cases they have no option but to continue, otherwise they won’t be able to feed their families, and they’ll die of starvation. The great strategy about Pure Earth is that they go in and educate these local communities and provide them with healthier alternatives. For instance, gold mining is a very big source of income in India. Richard and the team have found that using borax, which is found in regular household cleaners and detergents, can be used in gold extraction instead of mercury which is highly poisonous.
E-waste scavenging, car battery breaking and small-scale gold mining appeal to families without economic alternatives. Most often, they do not know the work is toxic and don’t understand why their children are dying. And other times, when they do know, they say they would rather die of lead or mercury poisoning than starvation. We need to provide healthier alternatives and hope for these poor families who don’t have many options.”
We understand you helped Richard Fuller select the name Pure Earth and helped design the new logo. How did you come up with the name?
I thought the charity could have a more positive name with a global appeal that defines the good Blacksmith is doing around the world. They are literally “purifying the earth!” Pure Earth reminds me of people, communities, positivity and well-being. Richard is an extremely open and receptive leader, so when I brought the idea to him, he loved it and got the team working on rebranding the logo and website.
Why Pure Earth/Blacksmith Institute?
Richard and the team at Pure Earth know how to get this work done and how to bring together powerful groups of collaborators to work with the local communities to solve these problems. When a cleanup is finished and deadly chemicals are removed, the local community immediately sees the benefits; health and life expectancy improves dramatically and the environment is restored. This will help the economic structure of these communities too.
You recently completed filming Chappie with director Neill Blomkamp, due out March 2015. Does Chappie address themes of environmental destruction and social breakdown similar to Elysium?
This movie doesn’t, but Neill is a very environmentally conscious filmmaker, and I can’t wait for the world to see CHAPPIE.
What impact do you hope to make with your involvement in Pure Earth?
I hope to open eyes and save lives.
How can others get involved and help?
Visit the website and see how you can be a part of the amazing work Pure Earth is doing.
What does a Pure Earth look like to you?
This is what it looks like to Susan Sarandon, Anne Hathaway, Yoko Ono, Faith Ringgold and our other friends and supporters.
PURE EARTH extends our deepest appreciation to the artists and celebrities who have created the beautiful pieces you see here. These globes will be auctioned off at the PURE EARTH benefit gala this Saturday, April 26 in NYC.
Click below to explore the globes.
It is a small but powerful tool. The handheld XRF (X-ray fluorescent) analyzer can identify toxic particles in soil in about 30 seconds, allowing remediation crews to quickly locate and determine the extent of any contamination, and potentially begin life-saving cleanup without delays.
“Before getting an XRF, we had to manually collect soil samples, package them and somehow get them to an accredited laboratory, which might be located in a different country, for analysis,” says Jack Caravanos, head of Blacksmith’s Technical Advisory Board and a professor of environmental health at Hunter College.
“When you have hundreds of plastic bags filled with soil and other biological contaminants, transporting them is quite a challenge.”
In Nigeria, we used the XRF to take samples of contaminated soil in Zamfara following one of the world’s worst outbreaks of lead poisoning that, according to some reports, has killed over 400 children to date.
In Uruguay, we used the XRF in the city of Montevideo to accelerate lead cleanup in the Aquiles Lanza neighborhood, where some residents make their living by burning e-waste to extract valuable materials like copper.
We collected over 100 soil readings in Montevideo, using the data to target the most polluted areas for remediation, and then to document lead readings before and after cleanup to measure effectiveness. We were also able to create a map showing the distribution of lead contamination in the neighborhood.
“In a project like this, the XRF allows us to provide a good model for rapid evaluation and cleanup of toxic hotspots that can be reproduced in other areas of Montevideo, in particular in neighborhoods around the Arroyo Pantanoso Basin,” says Sandra Gualtero, Blacksmith’s program director for Latin America.
In Nigeria, we used the XRF to gauge contaminants in the soil at “Sodom and Gomorrah,” the notorious Agbogbloshie e-waste dump site in Ghana.
In Armenia, we are using am XRF to assess heavy metal contamination in a mining town, and we hope to start work in Mongolia soon.
Since 2006, Blacksmith’s yearly reports have been instrumental in increasing public understanding of the health impacts posed by toxic pollution, and in some cases, have compelled cleanup work at pollution hotspots.
This latest report is no different. Below is some of what is being said.
“Climate change may get most of the attention, but the biggest environmental risk to human health today isn’t global warming. It’s industrial pollution, often in poor cities and towns where factories, power plants and chemical facilities face little to no regulation.” — Time magazine (See the Time magazine slideshow)
In some places the damage caused to the land is so huge that it cannot be reversed, so the only option is to move people away and seal the contamination. — BBC News
The report found that the greatest threats to human health are increasingly coming from thousands of impoverished workers conducting small-scale production in dangerous conditions, rather than massive volumes of waste from single companies or factories. — International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
Such toxic pollution threatens the health of more than 200 million people, and industrial pollutants, led by lead–acid battery recycling, affect the health of more people than malaria globally, according to Blacksmith’s calculations. — Scientific American (see slideshow)
Blacksmith experts increased the estimated number of people threatened by toxic pollution, from 125 million a year ago to 200 million today, based on increasing pollution as well as increasing discovery of waste sites. — Huffington Post
“In these extraordinarily toxic places lifespans are short and disease runs rampant among millions of people who live and work there, often to provide the products used in richer countries. “– The Guardian
Significant progress has been made in many places that previously made the list, the report acknowledges. In the Dominican Republic’s Haina, naming and shaming has produced positive results. — Toronto Star
“…the report shines a light on an under-acknowledged problem. Environmental pollution is a major cause of disease, particularly among children, many of whom are running freely around places like Agbogbloshie. Up to 200 million people around the world are exposed to toxic chemicals regularly.” — Fast Company/Co.Exist
West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan has called on all stakeholders to work together with the government in restoring the Citarum River following a report by an environmental organization, which listed the Citarum as one of the world’s most polluted bodies of water. The restoration program will be carried out in an integrated and systematic manner from 2014 to 2018. –– Jakarta Post
The pollution began in the 16th century, when people began throwing animal parts and fat into the water. That continued into the 19th century, when businessmen came to its banks to set up “saladeros,” shops that produce salted meat. Over time, factories moved in and began dumping heavy metals and acid. – Associated Press, about the Riachuelo river in Argentina, new on the 2013 Top Ten Toxic Threats list.
This year’s list also includes Hazaribagh in Bangladesh, which is home to most the country’s 270 registered tanneries. Every day, they collectively dump around 22,000 cubic litres of toxic waste, including cancer-causing hexavalent chromium, into the Buriganga, Dhaka’s main river and key water supply. — AFP
Here are more highlights (click the icons to read). More Blacksmith in the news here.
“Top Ten Toxic Threats in 2013: Cleanup, Progress and Ongoing Challenges” from Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland is available for download at www.worstpolluted.org.
“In this year’s report, we cite some of the most polluted places we’ve encountered. But it is important to point out that the problem is really much larger than these ten sites,” says Richard Fuller, president of Blacksmith Institute.
“We estimate that the health of more than 200 million people is at risk from pollution in the developing world.”
Since 2006, Blacksmith’s yearly reports have been instrumental in increasing public understanding of the health impacts posed by toxic pollution, and in some cases, have compelled cleanup work at pollution hotspots.
In Indonesia, for example, this year’s report might have already triggered a renewed focus on the polluted Citarum river, as reported in the Jakarta Post — “West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan has called on all stakeholders to work together with the government in restoring the Citarum River following a report by an environmental organization, which listed the Citarum as one of the world’s most polluted bodies of water.” [slideshow of the Citarum river]
Earlier this month, Blacksmith was with the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) in Minamata, Japan, to witness the landmark signing of the first international treaty to curb mercury pollution, and to help countries abide by the agreement.
To date, Blacksmith has identified 425 sites contaminated by mercury, with about 10.9 million men, women and children at risk from these sites (see table).
As secretariat for the GAHP, Blacksmith hosted an event in Minamata to introduce delegates from 140 countries to GAHP resources, which include technical and financial resources to help low-and middle-income countries reduce mercury emissions and mitigate human health risks from mercury-contaminated sites.
“We want low- and middle-income countries to know that they can ask the GAHP for help to abide by the Minamata Convention. They will not have to do this alone,” says Blacksmith president Richard Fuller.
Mercury is one of the top six toxic threats, as identified by Blacksmith’s 2010 World’s Worst Pollution Problems report, and is considered one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern by WHO.
Because of its propensity to travel and linger, mercury, in particular, is a global problem that can only be solved with an approach that is international in scope. This is why the Minamata Convention is key to a better, mercury-free future. With GAHP’s help, it can be a reality.
To join GAHP or seek GAHP help, contact the GAHP Secretariat at email@example.com.