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

August 09, 2018

Breathtaking: Gasping for Air Across the Globe

Larry C. Price

Airborne particles—sometimes much smaller than the width of a human hair—are not just contributing to climate change. They are a leading driver of serious illness the world over.

August 23, 2017

The Cookstove Conundrum

Michelle Nijhuis, Lynn Johnson

Nearly half the people on earth use open fires to cook their food and heat their homes, and the price they pay is steep. But changing the world's kitchens is surprisingly complicated.

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.

The Weight of Numbers: Air Pollution and PM2.5

Larry C. Price visited seven countries to examine the impacts of PM2.5 air pollution, and to uncover what’s being done—or not—to address this ambient and ultimately controllable killer.

High in the Polluted Andes

Peru is the world's second largest zinc, silver, and copper producer and accounts for a whopping 11.2% of zinc output. But with lax regulation, a decade-long pollution crisis remains unsolved.

E-book: 'Toxic Planet: The Global Health Crisis'

The Pulitzer Center launches its newest e-book: "Toxic Planet: The Global Health Crisis"—a searing look at pollution, an issue that affects us all. Now available on iTunes, Atavist, and Kindle.

Meet the Journalist: Deborah Bloom

In a densely populated village outside Mombasa in Kenya, the effects of industrial pollution continue to harm inhabitants. Deborah Bloom chronicles an activist's fight against it.

Meet the Journalist: Ricardo Martínez

Grantee Ricardo Martínez spent two weeks at 4,300 meters near Cerro de Pasco, Peru. There, almost 100,000 people have to endure heavy metal pollution every day as it leeches into a 936km2 watershed—and many kids are dying.

This Week: Family Divided at the Border

This week: reunification dreams stall due to continuing crisis along the border, Cape Town's water issues run deep, and Bhopal's 34-year-old environmental disaster still plagues residents.

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