Blacksmith Celebrates a New Year with a New Grant
This is the year we will mark the beginning of the end of life-threatening pollution. I say this optimistically because we just received a new $900,000 grant from the Asian Development Bank for our Global Inventory Project to identify and document the world's worst polluted places. The funds will allow us to complete our worldwide assessments, which is one-third done (read update in Dec. newsletter), and move forward to solve these problems.
This renewed support for the Global Inventory Project means that we are in a better position to secure funds for the Health and Pollution Fund, which will be used to support the cleanup of sites listed in the inventory. This is a crucial step towards eliminating legacy pollution in the developing world. We will continue working with the Asian Development Bank on this and offer updates throughout the year.
For now, let's begin 2010 by remembering Haiti in their time of need. One organization to consider is Partners in Health. Together we can make a difference.
-- Richard Fuller, President, Blacksmith Institute
In This Issue
Blacksmith Institute Program Director Meredith Block and Technical Advisory Board member Dr. Ian von Lindern were in Senegal in late December to continue the cleanup of lead contamination in Dakar. In 2008, 18 children died of lead poisoning there.
Working closely with community leaders and local officials, Blacksmith experts removed around 2000 cubic meters of highly contaminated soil last year. On this return trip, work began on the second phase of the project to remove the remaining estimated 4000 cubic meters of lesser- contaminated materials.
Dr. von Lindern and his team from TerraGraphics Environmental Engineering also took new soil samples from homes and community areas previously cleaned to measure the program's effectiveness.
Lead pollution in this area is caused by the improper recycling of car batteries, a problem that can be found in almost every city in the developing world.
Photo: Dr. von Lindern and local coordinator Assane Diop in the lead-polluted community of Thiayore-Sur-Mer in Senegal.
Blacksmith recently brought cameras to the remote gold mines of Kalimantan, Indonesia, to talk to miners about their use of toxic mercury to extract gold. An estimated 1000 tons of mercury - 30% of the world's mercury emissions - are released as a result of artisanal gold mining.
The video documents the process -- we see miners crushing the ore, mixing it with mercury, and then burning the mercury off with a propane torch to recover the gold or adding cyanide to release the mercury. It also documents a solution.
Blacksmith has been working with a local NGO to get simple, low-cost mercury-capturing devices known as retorts into the hands of miners, who include many women and children. The effect has been a dramatic reduction in the amount of toxic mercury escaping into the atmosphere, and a decrease in mercury poisoning among miners and their families. Read more in the Pollution Blog.
When Dr. Philip J. Landrigan was asked what he thought was the most important thing people can do to save the planet, his answer was "protect children from toxic environments."
Pollutants, especially lead and pesticides, have been the focus of Dr. Landrigan's world-renowned work in children's health over the past 30 years, beginning in the 1970s when he was a field epidemiologist, a medical detective, for the Epidemic Intelligence Service of the Centers for Disease Control.
His sleuthing led him to make the link between lead from a smelter in El Paso, Texas, and loss of I.Q. in the children who lived nearby. He was also one of the first to correlate childhood lead exposure to declines in lifetime economic productivity and loss of earning potential.
To illustrate, Dr. Landrigan points to what he considers his greatest success -- getting lead out of gasoline in the U.S. and other countries.
"In U.S., this resulted not only in a 90% reduction in children's blood lead levels and a 95% decrease in pediatric lead poisoning," notes Dr. Landrigan, "but also a 6 point increase in mean I.Q. of American children and a net annual benefit to the U.S. economy of about $200 billion, primarily the consequence of increased economic productivity resulting from increased intelligence."
A Professor of Pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Dr. Landrigan is now working with Blacksmith to help children in poor countries with developing economies.
"I saw that Blacksmith's mission to clean up the world's worst polluted places complemented my own life's work," says Dr. Landrigan, who joined Blacksmith's board of directors two years ago and is also a member of Blacksmith's Technical Advisory Board. "And their focus is also on children, which is key because children are more biologically vulnerable to pollutants. They play in the dirt and are constantly putting their fingers in their mouths."
In addition to providing medical and scientific expertise, Dr. Landrigan and his team at Mount Sinai are working with Blacksmith to estimate the global burden of disease in children that is caused by environmental pollution and also to calculate the economic costs associated with those disease.
Dr. Landrigan hopes his data and studies will influence policy-makers and prompt faster cleanup work in the developing world. But even in the U.S., notes Dr. Landrigan, legislation and change can take years after scientific and medical studies are published to take effect.
"You have to do your work, trust the data and be patient, but when opportunity arises to present data to policy-makers, you must seize that moment and put forth your science. That is the way to make an impact."
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