Green Cross Switzerland has teamed up with the Blacksmith Institute to identify the top six toxic threats to global health as part of the 2010 Toxic Threat Report highlighting the worst pollution problems.
“Today more than one hundred million people are exposed to toxic concentrations that are significantly higher than international health standards,” Nathalie Gysi, General Manager at Green Cross Switzerland
, points out.
The toxic substances identified in the report cause serious health risks for up to one hundred million people around the world, especially children. The global health impacts of toxic pollutants such as heavy metals, pesticides and radionuclides are much more substantial than previously estimated.
“The health of roughly 100 million people is at risk from pollution in developing countries,“ says Richard Fuller, founder of Blacksmith Institute
. “The six pollutants in this report came up again and again at the sites we looked at around the world.”
According to the report, the world community has taken significant steps to fight some of the most serious health threats, including Malaria and HIV/AIDS. While these pandemics have drawn a lot of attention, the connection between human health and environmental pollution has remained largely unnoticed. Despite the significant threats and the proven effectiveness of measures, only a fraction of international aid is provided for the clean-ups, the authors of the 2010 Toxic Threat Report argue.
The 2010 environmental report is based on over 1000 risk assessments at 600 polluted sites in more than 40 countries, which have been recorded in Blacksmith’s database with support of Green Cross Switzerland. More than 150 experts have been contracted and trained to carry out the assessment work so far. The top six toxic threats worldwide in 2010 are (in the order of the population affected:
- Lead (18-22 million people affected worldwide)
- Mercury (15 -19 million people affected worldwide)
- Chromium (13-17 million people affected worldwide)
- Arsenic (5-9 million people affected worldwide)
- Pesticides (5-8 million people affected worldwide)
- Radionuclides (5-8 million people affected worldwide)
This year’s toxic threat report ranks the pollutants according to the number of people estimated to be at risk from each toxin. It describes their physical nature and the industries that typically cause the release of the toxic substances. The report provides examples from around the world on how human health can be affected by each pollutant.
The focus on specific pollutants reflects a more sophisticated understanding of the scope of toxic pollution globally. The 2010 report provides impressive evidence of the scope of pollution and the global distribution of each pollutant, as these toxic substances originate from a number of different sources. Lead, the world’s worst toxic threat, comes from leaded gasoline for transportation, metal smelters, battery recycling, sinker production for fishing, color and ceramics manufacturing and lead mats for radiation protection. Due to its many different sources, lead is a health risk for people on every continent.
“These pollution problems can be dealt with affordably and effectively,“ says Dr. Stephan Robinson, Unit Manager (Water, Legacy), Green Cross Switzerland. “In many cases solutions already exist that have shown success elsewhere,“ adds Robinson. Past clean-up projects designed by the groups range from the very low-tech to more technical engineering projects involving soil removal at playgrounds and groundwater remediation.
The health impacts from the top six toxic threats include physical and mental disabilities, organ dysfunction, neurological disorders, cancer and in some cases death. The report also asserts that these pollutants exacerbate other health concerns by weakening the body’s immune system, rendering it more susceptible to disease. According to the authors of the report, an initial exposure to toxic pollution can be the undocumented cause of later illnesses, such as respiratory infections, tuberculosis, gastrointestinal disorders, and maternal health problems.
The 2010 ranking is based on criteria established by a group of international environmental and health experts, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University, the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, Emory University and City University of New York. These experts are members of Blacksmith Institute’s Technical Advisory Board. Specialists from Green Cross Switzerland also contributed to the report. The three main criteria include : pollutant toxicity, directness of the contamination pathway and number of affected people worldwide.
Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland have been partners since 2006. The two organizations jointly work on projects to eliminate pollution from former mining and smelting operations in Rudnaya Pristan in far-east Russia as well as to clean up the Marilao, Meycauayan and Obando river system in the Philippines, which is heavily contaminated with industrial chemicals and household waste.