Testing a playground for toxins in Zambia.
For more than a decade now, Pure Earth has been training and sending investigators out across the world’s worst polluted places to identify, assess and map contaminated sites that pose a health risk to communities. The effort, part of our Toxic Sites Identification Program (TSIP), has produced the largest database of polluted sites of its kind. Now, this important trove of data is available online at www.contaminatedsites.org.
Investigating a toxic site in Colombia
Database users can access information on thousands of contaminated sites worldwide that have been screened by TSIP investigators, with nearly 5000 polluted sites identified.
These polluted sites alone represent a potential health risk to more than 80 million poor people. However, they likely represent a small fraction of the overall total number of toxic sites that exist. Analysis of the data and trends in the database indicates that as many as 200 million people may be affected worldwide.
New sites and data will be added to the database with each TSIP investigation. As the database grows, the scale and scope of pollution’s true impact will become clearer.
Data Is Key to Helping The Most Vulnerable
Children in Kabwe, Zambia
Why this massive effort? Because you cannot manage what you cannot measure.
“The global pollution fight has been hampered by a lack of data. While this database is not a comprehensive inventory of contaminated sites worldwide, it is an important first step in documenting the pollution crisis in low- and middle-income countries, where most people are at risk,” says Bret Ericson, Pure Earth’s director of operations.
“By gathering and making this information available where it is most needed, the database will give those on the frontlines the knowledge to fight pollution where it is doing the most harm.”
Testing a playground in Indonesia
For example, the database can help governments and experts make better-informed decisions about pollution in their countries, and prioritize cleanup to help the most vulnerable populations. It can help researchers doing pollution studies in often-neglected low- and middle-income countries. And it can help focus the world’s attention on the urgency of the pollution problem.
A Global Pollution-Fighting Army
In order to carry out TSIP site assessments, Pure Earth trains an army of national experts in each country to fan out and document hazardous waste sites.
These investigators, who are often from the environment or health departments of a national university, visit sites, take soil samples and photographs, talk to residents, and work to identify the key pollutant, locate the sources of the contamination, and trace how the toxin is spread.
To date, about 150 investigators and 90 government representatives have been trained to identify and assess toxic sites in over 14 countries. The results of all their efforts are what you see in the database.