(Audio) Convincing the World to Put Toxic Pollution on the Agenda for the Next Decade

We began 2014 with a message to the U.N., urging action on toxic pollution at the Seventh Session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

“The SDGs will set the post-2015 global development agenda,” says Rachael Vinyard, Director of Strategy and Development for Blacksmith Institute, which serves as Secretariat for the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP).

“They will determine what issues get funded in the coming 10 to 15 years. So, it is critical that the world’s countries agree that chemicals, waste and toxic pollution should be a focus for the next decade and that solving these issues is key to achieving sustainable development and protecting human health.”

To make the case, Blacksmith advisor Karti Sandilya and Blacksmith founder Richard Fuller spoke on behalf of the GAHP about the connection between pollution and poverty, and global scale of the problem.

About 200 million people around the world in developing countries are exposed to toxic pollution, chemicals and waste… at levels several times what the U.S. EPA and other regulatory agencies consider safe for humans. To some extent this is the unintended consequence of globalization.  We’ve shifted manufacturing to lower-cost locations but not always with the adequate pollution controls you have in the developed world.  And as you can expect, most of these toxic hotspots are in slum localities.  Poor neighborhoods.  Never leafy suburbs. So it is also a question of poverty reduction. Most of the 200 million people affected are poor people. — Karti Sandilya, speaking to the U.N. on January 6, 2014.  Listen and share his presentation below.

Blacksmith will follow up on SDG negotiations over the course of six meetings to take place between March and July 2014 before the Open Working Group is due to present their proposal to the General Assembly later this year.

Helping Countries Abide By Minamata

Photo from Revisiting Minamata, and a Storied Mentor, New York Times, Credit: Takeshi Ishikawa

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).

Read – The Toxic Toll of Mercury: Facts, Figures and The Future of “Dancing Cat Fever” Disease

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.

The event also presented examples of successful on-the-ground projects conducted by two GAHP members: UNIDO and Indonesian Ministry of Environment.

“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 info@gahp.net.

Read the rest of the Sept/Oct newsletter

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

Pollution cleanup gets serious in Indonesia

Meeting in Indonesia

Pollution is finally getting official attention in Indonesia

You know that a government is getting serious about something when there are official workshops and conferences.  We are glad to report that last month, the Indonesian Ministry of Environment hosted a meeting and panel discussion about hazardous waste which attracted over 500 participants, including representatives from the chemical and waste industries, and other businesses and government departments that deal with the production, collection, transportation, and recycling of toxic waste.

While we have been working in Indonesia for some years now, this was the first workshop that the Ministry has conducted with a focus on the cleanup of contaminated sites. This means that the issue of toxic pollution is now getting official recognition, and that is key to getting things done. All this follows Indonesia’s membership in the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), for which Blacksmith serves as secretariat.

We attended the workshop, which took place on the island of Batam, to deliver a presentation on toxic hotspots, public health, strategies and technologies. The goal was to let all Indonesian stakeholders know about the resources available through the GAHP. We also wanted to showcase some of continuing work that we have been doing in Indonesia to combat mercury contamination from artisanal  gold mining and lead contamination from used car battery recycling.

Playing soccer barefoot is dangerous for these kids in Cinangka. The field is contaminated with toxic lead.

In particular, we announced the upcoming launch of our pilot cleanup in Cinangka, where we are remediating a lead-contaminated soccer field so that children in the village can play without being poisoned. The project  is being undertaken with GAHP’s help in collaboration with the Indonesian Ministry of Environment, the government of Bogor Regency, and the NGO Komite Penghapusan Bensin Bertimbel.

Masnellyarti Hilman, the Deputy Minister for Hazardous Substances, Hazardous Wastes and Solid Waste Management acknowledged that the project in Cinangka would encourage better management of toxic and hazardous waste across Indonesia. She further stated that they would follow up on the 150 toxic hotspots that GAHP has identified in Indonesia through Blacksmith’s Toxic Sites Identification Program.

Mercury Negotiations Recharged With Hot Chocolate and Cookies

Fernando Lugris, chair of the INC negotiations (left), with representatives of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution at INC5.

I attended the INC5 mercury negotiations in Geneva last month along with members of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) from the EU, UNEP, UNIDO, and GIZ, and representatives from SAICM and various countries including Peru and Uruguay. We were there to share information about the GAHP and we did it with the help of “sweet breaks.”

So in the no-nonsense arena of the INC5 negotiations, where 750 participants from more than 140 countries huddled together for over a week, we set up tables filled with hot chocolate, cookies and colorful cupcakes to provide respite for the weary.  It turns out, the treats played a small but welcome role on the sidelines of the talks, which produced an agreement between more than 140 countries on rules to curb mercury pollution.

Bringing different groups together is what Blacksmith does on many of our remediation projects, and over the years we’ve learnt that sometimes all it takes is something simple to get people to come to an agreement. The treats refreshed and recharge participants and also provided the opportunity for casual connections. I like to think that the many valuable side conversations about pollution and mercury that took place over cookies and hot chocolate left an impression on the proceedings.

In business, many deals have been sealed over dinner and drinks. The path to a cleaner world, I believe, follows the same general course. It is all about building relationships. The GAHP is the result of an international coalition – a network of relationships – that took hold over years of conversations.  Now, we at the GAHP are extending our hands to low-and middle-income countries in need of help to deal with pollution issues. Along the way, I am sure we will share numerous meals and cups of tea with representatives at every level. We will talk, discuss, exchange ideas and work together to get rid of pollution.  And when the cleanup is done, we will look back and remember how that conversation started, over hot chocolate and sweet treats in the middle of a crowd.

Related: Q and A about the GAHP and mercury

One-Stop Shop For Pollution Solutions

Retailers figured it out a long time ago. They could improve business if they made shopping easier. So they began to offer consumers everything they might need under one roof. Hence the success and popularity of one-stop shops. In a way, we are applying the same concept with GAHP, our one-stop shop for pollution solutions. The newly formed GAHP, or Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, will make pollution cleanup easier for low and middle-income countries looking for help.

While the international community has resources available to help clean up toxic pollution, navigating the process can be daunting. Expertise is available from different organizations and agencies depending on the type of toxin, the source of pollution, and where the hotspot is located. Often countries are plagued by more than one type of pollution problem, making the task of looking for help even more complex. The time and effort taken to find the right match can delay life-saving cleanup.

With GAHP, that process is now simplified. Instead of having to “shop around,” countries can now turn to one source – the GAHP – to access multiple lines of support. This is how it works. GAHP is made up of an unprecedented international alliance of members that include the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and UNIDO, among other agencies. All GAHP members have an interest in fighting pollution. They just have different expertise and rules governing their operations. By banding together, they can help fill the gaps. If one member cannot offer a complete solution, maybe two or three working together can.

Whenever a country seeks help, GAHP members get together to see who can help with what. For example, one GAHP member might have a program that targets lead cleanup, while another may only deal with education. Working together, they can help a country clean up lead-contaminated hotspots AND establish an education program to prevent further pollution.

Different GAHP members might also get together to help a country deal with a range of pollution problems. For example, in the Philippines, GAHP members convened to strategize on how they could help the government solve its toxic pollution problems. The USAID Philippines mission expressed interest to deal with artisanal gold mining issues in the country, while the World Bank plans to support a US$50 million initiative to begin cleanup of the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando river system. Meanwhile, Blacksmith will continue to provide technical assistance and support for smaller remediation projects. Before the meeting, activities in the Philippines in this area were piecemeal, and there was no large institutional support for dealing with problems at scale.

What we are trying to do with GAHP is to make pollution cleanup easier. If cleanup is easier, we believe more cleanups will take place. GAHP is the first ever one-stop shop for the world’s pollution fighting needs. Our doors are open.

To join GAHP or seek GAHP help, contact the GAHP Secretariat at info@gahp.net

Read about the GAHP in the Huffington Post: Global Alliance to Fight Toxic Pollution