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

Philippines and Indonesia: The Cost of Gold

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.

Peru's Gold Rush: Wealth and Woes

A third of a million Peruvians make their living from gold mining, but illegal tactics and deforestation methods are damaging the environment and inflicting health risks on the local population.

Ecuador: Jungle Tensions

Chevron is accused of having dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic waste in Ecuador’s Amazonian rainforest, and local residents are determined to hold them accountable.

American Imports, Chinese Deaths

Reporter Loretta Tofani gets inside America's factory, China, where the lack of health and safety precautions has Chinese workers dying.

In interviews with dozens of dying workers and through review of their medical records, she documents how Chinese workers routinely lose limbs from old machinery or develop fatal diseases...

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.

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