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

April 13, 2015

Poland: Coal’s Deadly Toll

Beth Gardiner

Poland gets 90 percent of its power and much of its heat by burning coal, one of the dirtiest of fuels. The consequences for Poles' health are severe, and one polluted city is now pushing back

June 30, 2014

Soil Pollution in China

He Guangwei

China confronts a hidden but grave environmental threat—soil pollution related to industrial development that affects as much as one fifth of China's farmland.

November 06, 2013

Toxic Development: The Cost of Pollution in India

Sean Gallagher

Pollution in India is a hidden problem with catastrophic consequences affecting rural and urban areas. Chromium contamination, lead pollution and pesticide poisoning have left a toxic trail.

September 13, 2013

Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn

Craig Welch, Steve Ringman

In 2009, The Seattle Times reported that ocean acidification – the plummeting pH of seas from carbon-dioxide emissions – was killing billions of Northwest oysters. That was only the beginning.

April 28, 2013

The Cost of Gold: Child Labor in Burkina Faso

Larry C. Price

In just a quarter century, one of the world's poorest countries has transformed itself into Africa's fourth-largest producer of gold. But at what cost to the children who labor in the mines?

November 06, 2012

Philippines and Indonesia: The Cost of Gold

Larry C. Price

Tiny children and teens toil in the gold mines of the Philippines and Indonesia. A risky, often deadly, business, child labor is growing as families rush to exploit the worldwide demand for gold.

When Cooking Kills

In Guatemala, locally made cookstoves are helping combat toxic smoke—but economics and tradition keep many people from using them.

Haiti: Trash in Paradise

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

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