100 Million Suffering in World’s Toxic Hotspots – 1% of Wall Street Bonuses Would End This In a Year

Millions of kids are condemned to die or suffer severe brain damage because there is no money to clean up toxic sites and neighborhoods. One or two billion dollars would solve the problem permanently but health advocates have to beg and plead to get maybe $20-$30 million. Wall Street’s 2010 bonus and salaries are estimated to total a record-breaking $144 billion for just 36 firms according to Wall Street Journal.

Don’t you think they could donate 1 per cent of their ‘earnings’? — Stephen

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 11, 2010 (IPS)

One of the world’s biggest health threats is also one of the least recognised – more than 100 million people who literally breathe and eat toxic pollutants like lead, mercury, chromium every day, according to the first-ever detailed assessment.

By contrast, global attention and billions of dollars are focused on AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, which affect comparable numbers of people.

“Toxic pollution has been under the radar screen of most governments for some time,” said Stephan Robinson of Green Cross Switzerland, a group focused on environmental health, and co-author of the assessment titled “World’s Worst Pollution Problems Report 2010”.

“These pollution problems can be dealt with affordably and effectively,” Robinson told IPS.

Past clean-up projects designed by the groups range from the very low-tech, low-cost to more technical engineering projects involving soil removal at playgrounds and groundwater remediation, he said.

Top Six Toxic Threats and Number of People Affected1. Lead: 18-22 million2. Mercury: 15-19 million3. Chromium: 13-17 million

4. Arsenic: 5-9 million

5. Pesticides: 5-8 million

6. Radionuclides: 5-8 million

*Estimated global impact is extrapolated from current site research and assessment coverage

“The health of roughly 100 million people is at risk from pollution in developing countries,” said Richard Fuller, president of the Blacksmith Institute, a small U.S. environmental group that worked with Green Cross to conduct the world’s first detailed inventory of polluted sites.

Their findings are based on data from over 1,000 risk assessments conducted by Blacksmith Institute investigators at polluted sites over the past two years.

“These toxic sites are rarely caused by large multinational corporations. It is usually local business, former government industries or the informal, artisanal industry like gold mining or lead battery recycling,” Fuller said.

Brain damaged kids from lead poisoning. Haina, Dominican Republic

doctors from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) visiting the northwest Nigerian state of Zamfara early this year discovered villages with hardly any children. More than 400 children had died from acute lead poisoning, they later learned. The remaining 2,500 children in the district had toxic levels of lead in the blood and needed emergency treatment called chelation therapy to reduce these levels.

“Some of these kids had the world’s highest lead levels ever recorded,” said Bret Ericson, who headed Blacksmith’s “Global Inventory Project” that conducted the site assessments.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin and children are especially sensitive, as it affects their developing nervous systems and brains. Many of those affected will have permanent brain and neurological damage. With every five-point rise in blood lead levels there is a corresponding four-point decline in IQ, Ericson told IPS. Some children had levels that will reduce their IQ 40 or more points, leaving them severely mentally handicapped.

Many of the Nigerian villagers were small-scale gold miners who crushed gold-bearing rocks inside village compounds. They did not know the ore also contained extremely high levels of lead. Children inhaled the lead dust which had spread throughout the community.

Blacksmith is working with local authorities and a U.S.- based company to decontaminate several villages and their soils. This is a major effort involving the World Health Organisation, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), MSF and other partners, but the total costs will be less than $3 million, he said.

“There is no international funding agency to deal with this kind of thing, so finding even relatively small amounts of money to do remediation is challenging,” he said.

Ericson coordinates more than 160 investigators who have spent the last two years finding and assessing toxic sites around the world. For example, there are derelict, former one-industry towns throughout the former Soviet Union where people are forced to scavenge in the toxic ruins of the old dirty industries to survive.

“We receive reports like this all the time. These sites are tragic and even countries like Ukraine have very little capacity to deal with it,” he said.

In central Asia, communities living near uranium mining waste sites are breathing, drinking and eating food contaminated with radioactive wastes. “This is very bad for children and has many health impacts,” said Stephan Robinson of Green Cross Switzerland. Under the Soviet Union, those sites were sealed and monitored, but no longer. “Residents, having no choice or simply unaware, use abundant uranium mine tailings for building materials,” Robinson told IPS.

Many countries lack the knowledge, technical expertise and capacity to deal with toxic sites even though some can be cleaned for relatively small amounts of money – 100,000 to 300,000 dollars. Blacksmith and its partners have cleaned up around 20 sites with a budget of 30 million dollars.

Tackling these problems will require international funding, where a billion dollars would make a huge impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

Blacksmith hopes to create a health and pollution fund to collect and distribute donations from countries and donor agencies so something can be done to clean up the worst problems.

“In the 20 countries where we work, we are their main resource for assessing and dealing with toxic sites,” said Fuller. “We’re it.”

First published on IPS news wire as: Toxic Hotspots Require Global Superfund – IPS ipsnews.net.

6 thoughts on “100 Million Suffering in World’s Toxic Hotspots – 1% of Wall Street Bonuses Would End This In a Year

  1. WHO reports that exposure to ozone kills more Americans every year than breast and prostate cancer combined – more than car accidents!

    It’s really time that the climate change people align with the environmental people. The same industrial processes that are causing climate change through CO2 emissions are polluting the air, water, and even soil.

    The corporations making obscene profits are united in their efforts to inhibit government regulation and media coverage. We need a movement that is united to fight them and hold them accountable for environmental destruction and human health costs.

    • I assume you mean ground level ozone? as in air pollution? Yes, it’s a serious health hazard and efforts to combat climate change bring the prime and immediate benefit of cleaner air.

      However as often as I have written about that fact, it seems to get ignored while people prefer to argue about climategate…very strange.

      So I think your final point explains it. And I agree.

      • Yes, tropospheric ozone, the 800 lb. gorilla in the room, which is killing trees all over the world.

        Next weekend I’m going to a conference at Wesleyan dressed as a tree. Here’s my draft handout that I will have printed this weekend (suggestions welcome!)

        Another, even MORE
        Inconvenient Truth

        “The U.S. soybean crop is suffering nearly $2 billion in damage a year due to rising surface ozone concentrations harming plants and reducing the crop’s yield potential,” a NASA-led study has concluded.

        Since the mid-20th century, scientific research has demonstrated conclusively that tropospheric ozone is toxic to vegetation, entering plants through stomates in foliage as they photosynthesize. ozone is formed in complex chemical reactions when volatile organic compounds from burning fuel meet UV radiation from the sun. Government agencies such as NASA and the US Department of Agriculture measure annual losses of essential crops such as wheat, rice and soybeans in the billions of dollars from stunted growth and reduced production due to ozone.

        But does anybody stop to think what ozone must be doing to long-lived species – trees and shrubs and even mosses – that suffer from cumulative exposure, season after season?

        Answer: it’s killing them – incrementally, and most tragically, imperceptibly to most people.

        The preindustrial level of ground-level ozone was in essence, zero. When it became obvious over fifty years ago that inversions and high spikes downwind of polluting sources were killing vegetation and sickening people, industries very cleverly learned to disburse the precursors. They built tall stacks and cleaned up some auto emissions, thus reining in much visible smog, and locally extreme peaks of ozone concentration. Isolated high peaks is of course is the method they prefer for ozone to be measured and regulated – and they spend a lot of time and money lobbying and in the courts using bogus science, ensuring the EPA adheres to that standard.

        But the invisible VOC’s travel across continents and oceans, and thus over decades the global background concentration has been inexorably rising – causing trees everywhere on earth to die off, and unfortunately, at a rapidly accelerating rate.

        That trees are dying is empirically verifiable by a cursory inventory. The causality is well-documented in published research and as well understood as the relationship between tobacco smoke and lung cancer. The only reticence preventing scientists and foresters from stating the obvious is denial of an existential threat. As if this weren’t enough, according to the WHO, ozone also kills more Americans every year than breast and prostate cancer combined – more than automobile accidents.

        When you hear that there is an ozone alert and a high heat wave, and then it is reported that deaths are from heat, it is just a distraction. Pollution kills people.

        When foresters in a revolving door with the lumber industry claim that beetles are killing trees, it is like saying pneumonia killed an AIDS victim. Controlled experiments have proven that ozone weakens the immune system of trees, and debilitates their natural defenses against insects, disease, and fungus. Their wood loses flexibility and makes their branches more likely to break from wind, ice and snow. Their roots deteriorate from acid rain, which leaches essential nutrients from the soil, and makes them more likely to fall over. Mudslides are becoming more commonplace as root systems of perennial plants shrivel. When foresters say that trees are dying from old age, that is a lie. Left undisturbed, most species have evolved to live for centuries.

        What are the implications of a world without trees? Much the same as the parallel acidification of the ocean, which is destroying coral reefs that will lead to a collapse of the entire ecosystem.

        Imagine a world without lumber, or paper…without shade, shelter, or habitat for birds and other wildlife…without walnuts, almonds, avocados, apples, pears and peaches…to say nothing of losing their splendid primeval magnificence. All of the species that depend upon trees – including humans – will ultimately go extinct without them.

        As billions of trees expire, they will turn from an essential carbon sink to a carbon emitters, driving climate change to become even worse than the worst predictions. And how we will replace the oxygen they produce, to breathe? There is evidence that phytoplankton, the other major producer of oxygen, has been reduced by 40% – and that they are absorbing ozone as well.

        Earth is a closed system, like a closed garage with a car running. The invisible but deadly fumes are building up and up. If we don’t turn off the engine everything will die, sooner or later. Everyone is familiar with the corporate-funded climate change denial machine. They have waged an even more effective campaign to hide the effects of ozone.

        Absolutely, there should be a very high price on carbon. But to focus single-mindedly on climate change from CO2 is a failed strategy. It’s not working! Emissions have not slowed at all! It’s time to scare the wits out of people and tell them that what is most urgently at risk is not merely polar bears and exotic butterflies – but dinner on the table and oxygen to breathe! It’s time not just to tax carbon, but to ration dirty fuel on an emergency basis.

        http://www.witsendnj.blogspot.com has links to published research on ozone.

  2. […] Millions of kids are condemned to die or suffer severe brain damage because there is no money to clean up toxic sites and neighborhoods. One or two billion dollars would solve the problem permanently but health advocates have to beg and plead to get maybe $20-$30 million. Wall Street's 2010 bonus and salaries are estimated to total a record-breaking $144 billion for just 36 firms according to Wall Street Journal. Don't you think they could donate … Read More […]

  3. I read Stephen because he talks about people, and people see their immediate families, their colleagues, neighbours and friends – the average person. We have empathy for the reality of suffering and want to back changes which will directly affect our use of resources and how we can make life better for our future generations. Most of the dialogue of crops and NASA and trees and such just goes over our heads … we are not stupid, we know, we need solutions not back-banter. We need these journalists to contiune.

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