Focus on Research in Developing World: “We are missing the full picture”


(NOTE:  Deadline Jan. 12, 2015 to apply for research grants.  See below)

haz matOver 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 WriteHuffington Post, Dec. 2014

Crucial Pipeline

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 poorMore 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:

1) Small Research Grants 2015: Call for Proposals, Deadline Jan. 12, 2015

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.

2) Teaching Scientists in Developing Countries to Write for International Journals

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.

3) Journal of Health and Pollution Gives Voice to Researchers from Underrepresented Countries

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.


Three Papers Published in Prestigious Journal

Richard Fuller, Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth President with a  Mexican potter

Richard Fuller, Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth President with a Mexican potter

Our effort to expand research and understanding about toxic pollution continues this month with three papers published in the prestigious Annals of Global Health, formerly known as The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine (Volume 80, Issue 4, p245-344, e1-e11 July–August 2014). 

Environmental pollution is the main cause of disease and death in the developing world. In 2012, exposures to polluted soil, water, and air resulted in an estimated 8.4 million deaths worldwide. By comparison, HIV/AIDS is responsible for 1.5 million deaths annually and malaria and tuberculosis less than 1 million each. More than 1 in 7 deaths globally are the result of environmental pollution.

This key paper is available in English and Spanish. It is an extensive historical review and analysis of 83 published articles from 1978 to 2010 containing available data on blood lead levels from more than 50,000 participants.  Using this data, researchers calculated a  geometric mean to evaluate the effect of lead on the pediatric burden of disease.

The results indicate that more than 15% of the population will experience a decrement of more than 5 IQ points from lead exposure. The analysis also leads researchers to believe that lead is responsible for 820,000 disability-adjusted life-years for lead-induced mild mental retardation for children aged 0 to 4 years.

In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), chemical exposures in the environment due to hazardous waste sites and toxic pollutants are typically poorly documented and their health impacts insufficiently quantified. Furthermore, there often is only limited understanding of the health and environmental consequences of point source pollution problems, and little consensus on how to assess and rank them. The contributions of toxic environmental exposures to the global burden of disease are not well characterized.

This study describes the simple but effective approach taken by Blacksmith Institute’s Toxic Sites Identification Program to quantify and rank toxic exposures in LMICs. This system is already in use at more than 3000 sites in 48 countries such as India, Indonesia, China, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine.


CDC’s MMWR Features Our Findings on Lead in Kabwe’s Children

Roadmap For Pollution Cleanup in Latin America

A new report provides a roadmap that can be used to accelerate pollution cleanup in Latin America.  With input from experts from seven Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay) and the U.S., the report examines environmental remediation laws and regulations that have proven to be particularly effective, and distills the findings into six governing principles that can be used as a model throughout Latin America for further refinement and discussion as environmental remediation laws are implemented, fine-tuned, and modified.

“In the U.S., the passage of what’s known as the Superfund program was what triggered cleanup. Even then, it took years of fine-tuning and modification to come up with best practices that worked. This report will help accelerate the process for Latin American countries. With effective regulations, cleanup of toxic pollution can happen faster, and more lives will be saved,” says Bret Ericson, Blacksmith’s Program Director for the Toxic Sites Identification Program.

The report is currently being made available to stakeholders across Latin America.

The time is right for a report like this. Countries in Latin America are very eager to do something about toxic pollution. They all seem to be moving towards enacting or improving regulations related to the cleanup of contaminated sites,” notes Sandra Gualtero, Blacksmith’s Program Director for Latin America.

[Read more, download the report “Regulatory Best Practices for Remediation of Legacy Toxic Contamination,” or click the images on the right to download English and Spanish versions]

The report was conducted by the Vance Center and commissioned by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP –a collaborative body supported by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Commission, the UN and other agencies and countries). Blacksmith serves as Secretariat for the GAHP

The six governing principles are: (Read full descriptions of the six principals in the report at

1) Create clear numeric guidelines for establishing that a site is contaminated
Although contaminated sites are often defined as sites where pollution is present at levels that may present a threat to human health and the environment, it is useful to enact regulations that specifically define what those levels are, so that sites with contamination at or above those levels can be readily identified as candidates for further investigation and remediation, if necessary based on the risk of exposure of vulnerable populations.

2) Utilize commercial triggers to identify contaminated sites
Evaluation of historic contamination should be required when project proponents are applying for facility permits (or modifications to existing permits), when industrial facilities are being bought and sold, and when industrial facilities are being shut down. These commercial triggers will result in the identification of contaminated sites at a time when commercial activity is taking place and funding for investigation and remediation is most likely to be available.

3) Create incentives for voluntary remediation
Laws and regulations should encourage private parties to come forward on a voluntary basis to address legacy contamination on sites that they own and operate, or on sites that they are thinking about acquiring.

4) Create a clear and efficient remediation process
One of the most significant barriers to environmental cleanup is the uncertainty surrounding applicable cleanup standards, the complexity of the process, and the involvement of multiple governmental agencies with actually or potentially conflicting jurisdiction. Experience has shown that published cleanup standards, a simple process for engagement with the government, and clear delineations of which agency has jurisdiction over a particular cleanup will encourage increased private sector participation.

5) Provide meaningful opportunities for public review and comment
Environmental remediation regulations and practices often benefit from input from members of the business community who will be called upon to effectuate cleanups and also by members of the community who live in close proximity to contaminated sites. Site remediation plans may also be more pragmatic and tailored to actual risk if they are subject to prior public review and comment.

6) Develop effective mechanisms to address abandoned sites
Sites that are not subject to commercial activity or voluntary remediation can be the most troublesome from a governmental perspective. Governments should consider creating a registry of such sites so that they can be identified for investigation and evaluated as candidates for future remediation. Sites should be prioritized for cleanup based on a clear methodology established by the government to address those that pose the greatest risk first.

Top Ten List of Worst Polluted Places Generates Worldwide Attention, Triggers Renewed Focus on Global Problem

The conversation about pollution just got louder.

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.

Learn more about “Top Ten Toxic Threats in 2013” and download the report.

“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.

New List of Top Ten World’s Worst Polluted Sites Is Released

A new report released this November updates the top ten list of world’s worst polluted places previously identified in 2006 and 2007, removing sites that have made progress, and adding new sites.

“Top Ten Toxic Threats in 2013: Cleanup, Progress and Ongoing Challenges” from Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland is available for download at

“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]

The report generated worldwide attention in Time magazine (slideshow), the Guardian, Voice of America, USA Today (slideshow), and other news outlets in the U.S. and internationally.

Related Post:  Top Ten List Generates Worldwide Attention, Triggers Renewed Focus on Global Problem

The Poisoned Poor – Global Alliance Highlights Invisible Sufferers

Agbogbloshie_Ghana_girls in wheelbarrow (1)Who does toxic pollution affect the most? A global alliance has come together to issue the first comprehensive report of pollution’s impact on this invisible demographic — the poisoned poor.

“The world’s poorest people routinely face the highest risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals due to their occupations, living conditions, lack of knowledge about safe handling practices, limited access to uncontaminated food and drinking water, and the fact that they often live in countries where regulatory, health, and education systems are weak…,” notes Veerle Vandeweerd, Director, Environment and Energy Group, UNDP.

The Poisoned Poor: Toxic Chemicals Exposures in Low- and Middle-Income Countries was produced by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), which includes the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the European Commission, UNDP, UNIDO and other agencies and governments.

Among the document’s key findings about the poisoned poor:

  • As many as 200 million people are affected.
  • The amount of disease caused by toxic exposures is similar to that of malaria or outdoor air pollution.
  • The majority of acutely toxic sites are caused by local business, many of them artisanal or small-scale. Surprisingly, international companies are rarely implicated.
  • The impact of these diseases, and the commensurate loss in economic capacity, is enormous.
  • Aside from the obvious health benefits, solving these problems usually promotes, rather than inhibits, economic growth.
  • Interventions to mitigate these toxic exposures while protecting livelihoods have proven to be manageable.

Download the one-page summary or full report here (in English, French, Spanish and Chinese).

Read the rest of the Sept/Oct Newsletter

Guide To Lead Cleanup Now Available; First in Series of Global Remediation Guides

The Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) has released a technical guide focused on the containment of lead, one of the world’s worst pollutants. It is the first in a planned series of guides on best practices in global remediation.

Produced by GAHP’s Technical Advisory Group, which consists of experts in the field, including Blacksmith Technical Advisory Board, the guides provide a valuable framework to help those implementing cleanup projects in countries where relevant regulations and institutional controls are still being established and where there is limited practical expertise in remediation.

“These guides help to pass the experience gained in industrialized countries on remediation projects over several decades to those who are just beginning new programs. By sharing these resources, the GAHP hopes to make remediation easier and encourage more cleanup worldwide,” says David Hanrahan, Blacksmith’s Principal Technical Advisor and Convenor of the TAG at the GAHP.

The lead guide, for example, sets out the criteria for disposing of the toxic material in an engineered facility, based on approved approaches and practices internationally, which can be followed locally.

Read the rest of the Sept/Oct newsletter