Pollution is responsible for 40% of deaths worldwide, according to a study, published in 2007, conducted by a Cornell research group.
Two international environmental groups – U.S.-based Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland – issued The World’s Worst Pollution Problems: The Top Ten of The Toxic Twenty.
The Top Ten list includes commonly discussed pollution problems like urban air pollution as well as more overlooked threats like car battery recycling. The problems included in the report have a significant impact on human health worldwide and result in death, persistent illness, and neurological impairment for millions of people, particularly children. Many of these deaths and related illnesses could be avoided with affordable and effective interventions.
Our goal with the 2008 report is to increase awareness of the severe toll that pollution takes on human health and inspire the international community to act. Remediation is both possible and cost-effective. Clean air, water and soil are human rights.” Richard Fuller, founder of Blacksmith Institute
Blacksmith Institute’s World’s Worst Pollution Problems list is unranked and includes:
- Indoor air pollution: adverse air conditions in indoor spaces. An estimated 80% of households in China, India, and Sub Saharan Africa burn biomass fuels in improperly ventilated spaces for their cooking energy. IAP contributes to three million deaths annually and constitutes 4% of the global burden of disease.
- Urban air quality: adverse outdoor air conditions in urban areas. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 865,000 deaths per year worldwide can be directly attributed to outdoor air pollution. Leaded gasoline (in countries where it is still used) and the combustion of fossil fuels, especially coal and diesel fuel, play a major role in air pollution.
- Untreated sewage: untreated waste water. WHO estimates that 1.5 million preventable deaths per
year result from unsafe water, inadequate sanitation or hygiene.
- Groundwater contamination: pollution of underground water sources as a result of human activity. Fresh drinking water makes up only 6% of the total water on Earth and only 0.3% is usable for drinking.
- Contaminated surface water: pollution of rivers or shallow dug wells mainly used for drinking and cooking. Almost 5 million deaths in the developing world annually are due to water related diseases, much of this being preventable with adequate supplies of safe water.
- Artisanal gold mining: small scale mining activities that use the most basic methods to extract and process minerals and metals. Mercury amalgamation, a by-product of artisanal and small-scale mining affects up to 15 million miners, including 4.5 million women and 600,000 children.
- Industrial mining activities: larger scale mining activities with excessive mineral wastes. Unless a major accident occurs, the effects are often chronic in nature3 and include irritation of eyes, throat, nose, skin; diseases of the digestive tract, respiratory system, blood circulation system, kidney, liver; a variety of cancers; nervous system damage; developmental problems; and birth defects.
- Metals smelting and other processing: extractive, industrial, and pollutant-emitting processes. Steel production alone accounts for 5-6% of worldwide, man-made CO2 emissions.
- Radioactive waste and
or genetic modifications.
: pollution resulting from the improper management of uranium mine tailings and nuclear waste. Of the ten largest producers of uranium, seven are in areas where industrial safety standards do not always correspond to the best industrial practices: Kazakhstan, Russia, Niger, Namibia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and China. There is no ‘safe’ level of radiation exposure. High exposures can result in death within hours to days to weeks. Individuals exposed to non-lethal doses may experience changes in blood chemistry, nausea, fatigue, vomiting
- Used lead acid battery recycling: smelting of batteries used in cars, trucks and back-up power supplies. Blacksmith Institute estimates that over 12 million people are affected by lead contamination from processing of used lead acid batteries throughout the developing world.