Toxic Hot Spots: A Global Health Threat
By The Editors
Toxic Hot Spots are areas where the concentration of toxic substances, which may be present in water, soil or air, is significantly higher than background levels. In these areas, the risk of adverse health effects is elevated. Toxic hot spots are often located in the vicinity of landfills, car battery recycling sites, sewage treatment plants, refineries, tanneries, mines, and numerous other operations. Living nearby these sites may cause serious adverse affects, as for example cancer and retardation in children..
We usually think of infectious diseases as the major global health problem. However, a new study by Kevin Chatham-Stephens and collaborators, published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives, shows that living near a toxic hot spot may lead to a higher health threat than some of the most dangerous infectious diseases worldwide, such as malaria and tuberculosis.
The study focuses on three countries, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The researchers estimate that more than eight million persons in these countries suffered disease, disability, or death resulting from exposures to industrial contaminants in 2010. The toxic substances causing the majority of negative health effects are lead and hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen. The researchers conclude that “toxic waste sites are a major, and heretofore under-recognized, global health problem.”
The study results confirm the findings of the 2012 World’s Worst Pollution Problems report, which clearly shows the large extent of the global health impact of pollution.
The image below (from the University of Hedelberg) is a global map showing pollution hotspots around the world. In this case, the hotspots were located in 2004 through detection of nitrogen dioxide, which is released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels by power plants, heavy industry and vehicles.
One toxic hot spot is Vietnam, a sad, lingering after-affect of the Vietnam War directly caused by the United States. Wikipedia cites sources that estimate 400,000 were killed or maimed and an additional 500,000 children were born with birth defects as a result of the use of Agent Orange as a defoliant during the war. According to the Red Cross of Vietnam, up to 1 million people are disabled or have health problems related to Agent Orange. The following is a link to an article in the Globe and Mail giving an overview: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/incoming/last-ghost-of-the-vietnam-war/article1057457/?page=all . For another perspective on the issue, you can visit the site of Chuck Palazzo, former Marine Corp veteran who served in the Vietnam War from 1970-1971 and who is currently an Agent Orange activist; http://www.veteranstoday.com/author/palazzo/ . Reading the articles, it becomes clear how hard and how long it takes to collect evidence of the effects of toxins and how difficult it is to pursue industry accountability. An article from CNN discusses how last year, the US finally began to get involved in clean up efforts in Vietnam: http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/10/world/asia/vietnam-us-agent-orange/ However, note the estimated cost to clean up 29 hectares (about 1/3 of a square kilometer): $43 million.
federal agencies will begin work this summer on a new five-year blueprint for a long-range Great Lakes cleanup program
The Great Lakes toxic hotspots are some of the most “famous” ones. These are areas heavily polluted by raw sewage, invasive species, contaminated sediment and more. Both Canada and US work with the concept of “Areas of Concern” — clean up and restoration efforts are ongoing for many of these areas of concern.
When I was living in Chicago, they would close the beaches all the time during the summer because of all the sewage in Lake Michigan. It was disgusting what they said on the news. It was almost at the point where every week they’d tell us a new pollutant in the drinking water: sex hormones, drugs, herbicides, etc. When my mom read in the paper that high levels of hexavalent chromium were found in the drinking water, she immediately had a water filter installed in the kitchen sink.
It affects the marine life because heavy metals, nutrients, and bacteria are toxic to them. With all the trash and chemicals in the ocean water it becomes difficult for the marine life to breathe. When toxic waste harms one organism; it ends up harming a whole food chain of marine life.
Many of these toxic hot spots are located near the coast; how do these hot spots affect the marine life?