News / Health

    Toxic Waste Exposure Widespread in Developing World

    An apartment is engulfed by toxic smoke from burning trash at Dandora waste site, one of Africa's biggest garbage dumps, in Nairobi, Kenya (Oct. 5, 2007 file photo)
    An apartment is engulfed by toxic smoke from burning trash at Dandora waste site, one of Africa's biggest garbage dumps, in Nairobi, Kenya (Oct. 5, 2007 file photo)
    Jessica Berman
    Millions of people in developing countries living near toxic waste dumps are facing potentially severe mental and physical health dangers, according to a new study.  The report finds the hazards posed by exposure to these chemical waste sites are comparable to those from malaria and air pollution.

    The study by a New York-based environmental organization analyzed water and soil samples at 373 waste sites in three countries - India, Indonesia and Pakistan - with a combined population of more than 1.5 billion people, roughly a fifth of the global population.
     
    The researchers found that the more than 8.6 million people living near the sites in 2010 were being exposed to a veritable soup of toxic chemicals.

    “Lead, chromium, phosphates, different kinds of organic chemicals, pesticides and the like.  They’re all over the world, unfortunately," said Richard Fuller.

    Co-author Richard Fuller is head of the Blacksmith Institute, which funded the study and works to solve pollution problems in low- and moderate-income countries.

    Fuller and colleagues calculated the affected population lost more than 828-thousand years of healthy life due to toxic waste exposure, as a result of illness, disability and early death. In comparison, researchers say malaria in the same countries caused less illness and early death, and air pollution slightly more.  

    The three-nation survey found pollution levels were highest for lead, a toxic metal which, if absorbed into the bloodstream, can impair the neurological development of unborn babies and lower children’s IQ, a measure of their cognitive skills.

    Two-thirds of those exposed to lead near waste dumps in Pakistan, India and Indonesia were children and women of child-bearing age, according to researchers.

    But lead author Kevin Chatham-Stephens, a pediatric environmental health expert at the Mount Sinai school of medicine in New York, says those living near toxic waste sites can take simple steps to reduce their risk.

    “Even though it may not sound like a lot, washing your hands is one of the most effective ways that we can decrease our exposure to chemical pollutants - just because we know that oftentimes chemicals such as lead can end up in the dust and if we have that dust on our hands, and then we eat our foods and we wipe our mouths or something like that, then that chemical can enter into our body," said Chatham-Stephens.

    The Blacksmith Institute is evaluating toxic waste sites in 70 other developing countries, hoping to help organize clean-up efforts.  Fuller says it’s a slow process to remediate the chemical dumps, but the countries he’s working with have been eager to cooperate.

    “Everyone here has the right heart and [is] keen to do the best that they can.  So, we think it’s possible.  It’s just going to take a lot of work," he said.

    The study on the burden of disease from toxic waste dumps in India, Pakistan and Indonesia is published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora