Industrial sources of environmental toxins endangering 200 million people worldwide

The Environmental Toxin Report 2016 from the environmental organisations Green Cross Switzerland and Pure Earth, New York, provides information about the world’s ten most dangerous sources of environmental toxins and quantifies the magnitude of the adverse effects on health caused by toxic substances worldwide in DALYs (source: media information by GC Switzerland).

Although the majority of environmental toxins are contributors to global morbidity and mortality, few publications are available on this subject. At the same time, pollution is increasing as a result of the rapid expansion of urbanisation and industrialisation and the informal economy, particularly in low and middle-income countries (LMIC).

The goal of the Environmental Toxin Report 2016 is to provide information about the most important effects of industrial sources of environmental toxins on public health and to show opportunities to implement life-saving decontamination and protective measures. For this purpose, Pure Earth and Green Cross Switzerland are presenting cost-effective and innovative solutions to effectively protect the health of the endangered population.

Approximately 200 million people are suffering damage to body and brain, often irreparable, by the exposure to lead, mercury, chromium, obsolete pesticides and radionuclides in thousands of polluted places. To control the emissions of mercury, a heavy metal, 140 nations have signed the Minamata Convention (mercury convention) in October 2013. Switzerland was one of the first countries to sign and committed a total of CHF 7.5 million to put the convention into action. At its summit meeting on 25 September 2015 in New York, the Conference of the United Nations for Sustainable Development approved the “Agenda 2030” with 17 new goals for sustainable development (Sustainable Development Goals – SDG).

“The UN member states, which approved Agenda 2030, are called upon to take steps to reduce chemicals and toxic waste”, says Nathalie Gysi, Executive Director of Green Cross Switzerland. According to Richard Fuller, founder of Pure Earth, New York, the worst cases of environmental pollution within these industries are attributable to unregulated, small-scale activities with a high level of contamination and larger sources of environmental toxins which have been shut down by now. The reason for this are lack of knowledge regarding best practices and technologies as well as a lack of oversight.

Sources of environmental toxins are the cause of 17.78 million lost years of life (DALYs)

The Environmental Toxin Report 2016 quantifies the negative impact on health resulting from the sources of environmental toxins and the related pollutants in Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). The lost life years due to premature death and the effects on the quality of life due to ill health are measured by these DALYs. Based on the database of the Toxic Sites Identification Program (TSIP) 17.78 million DALYs are attributable to toxic substances from ten sources of environmental toxins in the 49 countries that were analysed. The Environmental Toxin Report 2016 is available for downloading in English on 26 October 2016 from 9 a.m. CEST on at www.greencross.ch.

The ten most dangerous sources of environmental toxins in 2016 and the related pollutants:

(ranked according to the number of lost life years DALYs)

1. Battery recycling: up to 4.8 million lost life years due to lead

2. Mining and ore processing: up to 2.6 million lost life years due to lead, chromium, mercury

3. Lead smelting: up to 2.5 million lost life years due to lead

4. Tannery operations: up to 2.0 million lost life years due to lead, chromium

5. Artisanal gold mining: up to 1.6 million lost life years due to lead, chromium, mercury

6. Industrial and municipal disposal sites: up to 1.2 million lost life years due to lead, chromium

7. Industrial estates: up to 1.2 million lost life years due to lead, chromium

8. Chemical manufacturing: up to 0.75 million lost life years due to lead, chromium

9. Product manufacturing: up to 0.7 million lost life years due to lead, chromium

10. Dye industry: 0.43 million lost life years due to lead, chromium

Other significant sources of environmental toxins are the petrochemical industry, improper recycling and disposal of electronic waste, heavy industry, pesticide production as well as uranium mining and processing. They contribute nearly 5 million DALYs and endanger approximately 6.6 million people worldwide. Chemical seepage contaminates the soil and pollutes the groundwater used for drinking, washing and bathing. In addition, many toxins find their way into rivers or the air through contaminated dust and particles, which considerably increases the potentially endangered population.

About Pure Earth and Green Cross Switzerland

Pure Earth (formerly Blacksmith Institute) is an internationally operating non-profit organisation committed to solving life-threatening environmental problems in developing nations. Pure Earth is involved in identifying and cleaning up the most polluted places in the world and focuses on places where the health, especially of women and children, is most at risk. The New York-based organisation works jointly with governments, the international community, NGOs and local agencies on the development and implementation of innovative, cost-effective solutions to save lives. Since 1999 Pure Earth has realised over 50 projects and is currently involved in more than 40 projects in 20 countries.

With its programs Social and Medical Care and Legacy of the Cold War, Green Cross Switzerland is committed to overcoming the subsequent damages of industrial and military disasters. The program Water-Life-Peace supports the access to clean water. The primary goal is to improve the quality of life of the people impacted by chemical, radioactive and other types of contamination, as well as the promotion of sustainable development in the spirit of cooperation instead of confrontation.

Green Cross International (GCI), founded by Mikhail Gorbachev, is an independent, non-profit non-government organisation acting through advocacy at the highest level and through local projects to surmount interrelated global challenges, such as security, the fight against poverty and the destruction of the environment. GCI, headquartered in Geneva, maintains a growing network of national organisations in over 30 countries.

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