Issue

Global Health: Perils of Pollution

In China, an occupational lung disease called pneumoconiosis is killing three times the number of miners dying from mining accidents. In Burkina Faso—Africa’s fourth-largest producer of gold—entire families toil among hazardous machinery and chemicals as they mine. In the Philippines, the smallest (and youngest) workers shrink down into crevices, risking their lives to carry out underwater compressor mining.

It has long been common knowledge that pollution harms our planet in the long term. But pollution is also a determinant of more immediate health effects, particularly for the world's poorest. As the leading cause of premature deaths around the world, pollution contributes to an estimated one in seven deaths each year, according to the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution. Most of these deaths occur in emerging nations where byproducts of unregulated mining and industrial waste disposal contaminate air, water, soil and ultimately food.

The worst pollutants—lead, mercury, cadmium radium and radioactive isotopes, chromium and pesticides—affect tens of millions of people and are major drivers of chronic diseases and cancers that cut lives short by decades. Air pollution from vehicle exhaust and coal-fired power plants affects millions more in the most congested cities of China, India and Eastern Europe, while indoor charcoal cooking fires are silently killing the poorest of the poor in Africa.

And moreover, consumers seem more complacent than ever to the risks posed by their demands. There are few incentives to foster hazard-free work environments. In fact, whether for our gold jewelry or our advanced electronics, producers need to cut corners in order to provide the goods we want at the prices we like.

This Issues gateway explores the major pollutants and the most polluted sites in the world to examine causes and consequences—and the search for solutions.

The Pulitzer Center's work on pollution and global health issues is supported by grants from Green Cross Switzerland and other generous donors.

Global Health: Perils of Pollution

May 29, 2017

The Black Death of Kabwe

Larry C. Price

Years of unmitigated contamination from Zambia's largest lead mine have created a toxic nightmare for the residents of Kabwe, the country's second largest city.

March 01, 2017

Ecuador: Health Consequences of Ceramic Glazing

Caitlin J. Cotter

An Andean village has battled severe lead toxicity from ceramics production, and now residents face the challenges of alternative glazing compounds or abandoning their cottage industry altogether.

February 23, 2017

Smoke and Mirrors

Nathalie Bertrams, Ingrid Gercama

Globally, cooking smoke causes over 4 million deaths per year. Can improved cookstoves save lives, the environment and is the promise of ‘clean cooking’ fulfilled in Malawi?

August 30, 2016

Solar Oven Use in the Dominican Republic

Makenzie Huber

Unreliable access to electricity and ever-increasing prices for gas keep almost half of the Dominican Republic from escaping poverty. Some communities are turning to solar cooking as a solution.

May 25, 2016

Deadly Pollution: The World's Most Toxic Places

Larry C. Price, Justin Kenny, Debbie M. Price, Richard Paddock

Pollution sickens and kills millions of people worldwide each year. This project explores the most toxic places with a focus on causes, consequences and possible solutions.

November 13, 2015

Lifting the Veil on Polluters in China

Fred de Sam Lazaro, Shi Lihong, Gary Marcuse

In Beijing a tiny NGO is taking on global corporations and harnessing people power in a campaign to clean up polluting factories in China.

August 01, 2017|

Haiti: Trash in Paradise

Rebecca Hersher explores the cost of not having a public sanitation system on the community of Cite Soleil in Haiti.

February 28, 2017|

The World's Most Toxic Places

This week: unregulated textile factories across Asia, a Somali migrant profiled, Jon Sawyer and Marvin Kalb dissect Trump and the media.