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Here’s A Global Issue We Don’t Hear So Much About: Pollution Is As Deadly As Malaria, According To N
October 24, 2012
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What are the major health problems affecting low- and middle-income countries?

One answer that might come to mind is disease: the impact of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis (TB) and other diseases gets a lot of attention, as it should.

But a new study points out another major source of health problems in those countries: industrial pollutants.


The study, 'World's Worst Pollution Problems,' was published by the Blacksmith Institute in partnership with Green Cross Switzerland, and it found that pollution affects the health of an estimated 125 million people in 49 countries.

"Appropriately, large amounts of time and resources are devoted to addressing the burden of diseases like tuberculosis and malaria," said Stephan Robinson, a researcher at Green Cross Switzerland.

"The striking fact is that international and local government action on these diseases greatly outpaces the attention given to toxic sites, which as demonstrated in this report, contribute greatly to the global burden of disease," he said.

Industrial pollution and its health effects carry a very real human cost.

For example, in 2010 doctors with Médecins Sans Frontières were vaccinating villagers in Zamfara, and they were shocked to find so few children.


The reason? Well, the villagers were small-scale gold miners who crushed gold-bearing rocks. The raw ore they were extracting the gold from had high levels of lead, which killed an estimated 400 children and gave thousands more lead poisoning.


The report found that this kind of small-scale industry is responsible for a lot of pollution-related health damage, while both small- and large-scale mining and lead production are also major culprits.

The terrible death and disease in Zamfara is clearly the result of industrial pollution. But in other places the impact of pollution isn't always so visible.

To give a fuller picture of what pollution is doing to the people in the 49 countries they studied, the report's authors estimated how many years of healthy life are lost every year because of industrial pollutants.

The measure they used is called "disability adjusted life years" (DALYs). It works like this: one DALY is equivalent to one lost year of healthy life due to ill health, disability or death.

According to the study, pollution is responsible for 17 million DALYs in the 49 countries they studied.

Malaria's toll is 14 million DALYs, according to the WHO.

In putting the report together, researchers examined about 2,600 active or shuttered industrial sites. They say the numbers they produced "are by no means conclusive, but can be taken as indicative of the potential scale of the problem."

Bret Ericson of the Blacksmith Institute says "this is an extremely conservative estimate. We've investigated 2,600 toxic sites in the last four years, [but] we know there are far more."

Many of the sites that are producing these toxic pollutants exist because of industrial requirements in the developed world, according to the study's authors.

"Much of this industrial activity is to serve our needs in the developed world," said Robinson.

He also pointed out that the issue of toxic sites has not received much attention. This is the first report of this size to document the public health impact of pollutants - like lead, mercury, chromium, radionuclides and pesticides - on the air, water and soil of developing countries.

You can read the full study right here.

If you're not familiar with Green Cross International (Green Cross Switzerland is one of the 31 country-specific organizations under the Green Cross umbrella), it has a pretty interesting story.

The organization was founded by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1992 following the original Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.


Its mission is "to help ensure a just, sustainable and secure future for all by fostering a value shift and cultivating a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility in humanity's relationship with nature."

Over the years, the Green Cross has focused on preventing and resolving conflicts over natural resources, addressing the (often-overlooked) environmental consequences of wars and conflicts, and promoting behaviour change to help the environment, especially among young people.

The Blacksmith Institute is another not-for-profit international organization.

It was founded in 1999 with the goal of eliminating life-threatening pollution in the developing world.


The Atlas of Pollution

Solar-Powered Inventions for the Developing World


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