Over the past year, Bret Ericson has been traveling the world helping to compile a unique list — the first ever global inventory of polluted places
“Currently, a worldwide list of sites where pollution is acutely affecting human health does not exist,” says Bret, the task manager for Blacksmith’s Global Inventory Project. “This makes estimating the population at risk very difficult.”
Armed with GPS devices, Bret and his team are assessing some 5000 sites in more than 60 countries. Even now, there are still some sites that shock him, like the Gorlovka chemical factory, which he came upon earlier this year.
“This site was flooring. It was almost entirely abandoned, but filled with ammonia, TNT and an extremely lethal substance called MNCB used in chemical weaspons. All of this was within 100 yards of a city of 300,000 people. It is a huge potential catastrophe.”
A practical idealist, Bret came to Blacksmith with a Masters degree from the London School of Economics. “I studied the use of charcoal, which causes a massive amount of indoor air pollution in poor countries.” But at Blacksmith, he notes, he’s come to realize the true scope of pollution. “Based on our global inventory, we estimate that more than 100 million people are acutely affected.”
“Gathering information is the first step in cleaning all these polluted sites,” says Bret. “In many of these places, kids are the most severely affected. I am always sad when I see a smiling child who has tested above the allowable limits for toxins like lead because I know her life is compromised.”
The Global Inventory Project has brought Bret an added benefit — a worldwide network of friends. “Blacksmith’s local coordinators are amazingly dedicated but don’t get much attention,” says Bret. “Pollution does not necessarily jump to mind when many people think about public health threats in poor countries. Our challenge is to articulate the scope of the global pollution problem.”
Photo: Bret Ericson (far right) at the announcement of the donation of leadcare blood testing equipment in Mexico.