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

Oil and Justice in the Amazon

Pulitzer Center grantee Kelly Hearn talks to NPR On Point about the historic environmental lawsuit filed by indigenous people of Ecuador's Amazonian rainforest against U.S.-based oil company Chevron.

Drug Cartels Siphon Pipelines

Colombian cocaine cartels are tapping into pipelines in Ecuador, stealing thousands of gallons a day of "white gas" that can be used to process raw coca into cocaine.

FARC Threats Stalk Ecuadorean Border

A flux of Colombian refugees escaping FARC threats into Ecuador heightens humanitarian concerns as well as security ones, intensifying tensions along the Colombia-Ecuadorean border.

Colombia Sued Over Effects of Herbicides

Adding to the tensions along its border with Colombia, Ecuador filed a lawsuit in The Hague, claiming it’s been affected by U.S.-funded spraying of herbicides to kill coca plants in Colombia.

They Pay the Cost for China's Cheap Labor

Globalization has intensified competition international trade. While U.S. companies outsource manufacturing to China to increase their profit margins, Chinese labors are paying for the difference.

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