Environmental Security and Sustainability

2012 Oct 24th

Pollution problems threaten 125 million people worldwide

The new Environmental Report 2012 published jointly by the environmental organization Green Cross Switzerland and the Blacksmith Institute of New York identifies the world's ten worst pollution problems. The latest report not only identifies the sources but also quantifies the global scale of damage to health caused by toxic substances for the first time.

“Pollution problems and toxic substances are proven to endanger the health of almost 125 million people worldwide,” says Nathalie Gysi, Executive Director of Green Cross Switzerland. The report also states that the health impacts of the ten pollution sources are reaching a similar scale to known health hazards such as malaria and tuberculosis.

Calculation of worldwide deaths and disability

The Environmental Report 2012 quantifies the health impacts of pollution sources and toxins in Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALY), which are used to determine the life years lost due to premature death and the impairment of quality of life due to disease. According to the data collected in the 49 countries covered by the report, about 17 million DALY can be attributed to toxic substances from pollution sources.

The ten worst toxic pollution problems and the associated toxins:

(Ranked according to the number of life years lost (DALY))

1.     Battery recycling: 4.8 m life years lost due to lead
2.     Lead smelting: 2.6 m life years lost due to lead
3.     Mining and ore processing: 2.5216 m life years lost due to lead, chromium, asbestos, mercury
4.     Tannery operations: 1.93 m life years lost due to lead, chromium
5.     Landfills with industrial and household waste: 1.234 m life years lost due to lead, chromium
6.     Industrial estates: 1.06 m life years lost due to lead, chromium
7.     Artisanal mining: 1.021 m life years lost due to lead, chromium, mercury
8.     Product manufacturing (electronics, batteries, metals): 0.786 m life years lost due to lead, chromium
9.     Chemical production: 0.765 m life years lost due to lead, chromium
10.  Textile dye industry: 0.43 m life years lost due to lead, chromium

This year's Environmental Report only examines those toxic substances whose health impacts can be measured by DALY and which cause health damage recognized by the WHO: lead, chromium, asbestos and mercury. Arsenic was not included because some arsenic pollution occurs naturally and the technical causes are disputed. The Environmental Report 2012 can be downloaded at www.greencross.ch on 24 October 2012, from 9 a.m. CEST.

Measuring the health impacts of pollutants in Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALY) allows a comparison with other known health hazards. The health impacts of industrial pollutants measured in DALY are roughly equal to those of the three major global infectious diseases.

Industrial pollutants are responsible for 17,147,600 DALY, compared to 28,933,000 DALY for AIDS, 25,041,000 DALY for tuberculosis and 14,252,000 DALY for malaria.

Urgent need for action

The aim of the report is to provide information about the main impacts of industrial pollution sources on public health and to highlight opportunities to implement life-saving remediation and protection measures.

To that end, the Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland propose innovative, low-cost solutions that effectively protect the health of the endangered population. According to Dr. Stephan Robinson, Unit Manager (Water, Legacy) at Green Cross Switzerland, the worst pollution within these industries is due to unregulated, small-scale activities with high pollutant loads as well as larger pollution sources that have now been decommissioned. This in turn is caused by a lack of inspections and knowledge in terms of best practice and and technology.

Yearly pollution reports

Since 2007, the yearly pollution reports by Green Cross Switzerland and the Blacksmith Institute have been instrumental in increasing public understanding of the health impacts of pollution sources, and in some cases, have even forced cleanup work at these sites. Previous reports have identified the worst toxic threats and the worst pollution problems.

About Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland

Blacksmith Institute is an international non-profit organization dedicated to solving life-threatening pollution issues in the developing world. It addresses a critical need to identify and clean up the world's worst polluted places. Blacksmith focuses on places where human health, especially that of women and children, is most at risk. Based in New York, Blacksmith works cooperatively in partnerships that include governments, the international community, NGOs and local agencies to design and implement innovative, low-cost solutions to save lives. Since 1999, Blacksmith has completed over 50 projects; Blacksmith is currently engaged in over 40 projects in 20 countries.

Green Cross Switzerland facilitates overcoming consequential damage caused by industrial and military disasters and the clean-up of contaminated sites from the Cold War period. It focuses on improving the quality of life for people affected by chemical, radioactive and other types of contamination, as well as promoting sustainable development in the spirit of co-operation instead of confrontation.

Green Cross International (GCI), founded by Mikhail Gorbachev, is an independent, charitable non-governmental organization that campaigns through high-level lobbying and local projects to overcome the interlinked global challenges of security, poverty reduction and environmental degradation. Based in Geneva, GCI maintains a growing network of national organisations in more than 30 countries.

For further information, please contact Dr. Stephan Robinson

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