Towards a New Global Commission on Environmental Pollution

July 14, 2015
10:00 am US Eastern Time

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Environmental pollution is the world’s largest threat to health today. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), pollution is responsible for 8.9 million deaths around the world each year, with 8.4 million (94%) of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. This amounts to more deaths than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. Yet despite the enormous toll that environmental pollution exacts on human health, and despite its amenability to control, pollution receives less than 0.5% of the international development dollar.

Environmental pollution comes in many forms, and each has a distinct set of sources, environmental pathways, health impacts and solutions. The growing problem of pollution—contamination of air, water or soil caused by human activity—in the world’s poorest places and within vulnerable populations is the unintended but direct consequence of the success (even if incomplete) in controlling pollution in North America and Western Europe. This success has prompted dirty industries to flee to “pollution havens” where wages are low, populations are weak and intimidated, and pollution controls virtually non-existent. This is social injustice on a global scale, and it directly impacts the global community’s overall health.  

To call attention to the overlooked problem of global pollution and to raise its profile in the international development agenda, Richard Fuller, founder and president of Blacksmith Institute/Pure Earth and Philip Landrigan, MD, MSc, Dean for Global Health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, have developed a plan to create a Global Commission on Environmental Pollution.

On this call CHE Director, Elise Miller, EdM, spoke with Mr. Fuller and Dr. Landrigan about the plans for the new Commission, including the role toxic chemicals play in environmental pollution, the relationship between human disease and environmental pollution. They discussed the Commission’s goal of educating key decision makers in countries around the world about the scale of the health and economic effects of pollution to catalyze wide scale effective action.

Featured Speakers

Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc, the Ethel H. Wise Professor of Preventive Medicine, is a pediatrician and epidemiologist. He has been a member of the faculty of Mount Sinai School of Medicine since 1985 and Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine since 1990. He was named Dean for Global Health in 2010. Dr. Landrigan is also the Director of the Children's Environmental Health Center. In 1987, Dr. Landrigan was elected a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. He served as Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine and Editor of Environmental Research. He has published more than 500 scientific papers and 5 books. He has chaired committees at the National Academy of Sciences on Environmental Neurotoxicology and on Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. From 1995 to 1997, Dr. Landrigan served on the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veteran's Illnesses. In 1997-1998, Dr. Landrigan served as Senior Advisor on Children's Health to the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and was instrumental in helping to establish a new Office of Children's Health Protection at EPA. From 2000-2002, Dr. Landrigan served on the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board. Dr Landrigan served from 1996 to 2005 in the Medical Corps of the United States Naval Reserve. He retired in 2005 at the rank of Captain. He continues to serve as Surgeon General of the New York Naval Militia, New York's Naval National Guard. Dr. Landrigan is known for his many decades of work in protecting children against environmental threats to health. His research combines the tools of epidemiology with biological markers derived from clinical and laboratory medicine. Dr. Landrigan is deeply committed to translating research into strategies for health protection and disease prevention.

Richard Fuller, is an Australian-born, U.S.-based engineer, entrepreneur and environmentalist best known for his work in global pollution remediation. He is founder and president of the nonprofit Blacksmith Institute (also known as Pure Earth) dedicated to solving pollution problems in low and middle-income countries, where human health is at risk. He is also the founder and president of Great Forest, Inc., a leading sustainability consultancy in the US In 2010, he was profiled in Time magazine's Power of One column about his efforts fighting pollution. In 2014, Bloomberg Businessweek chronicled the growth of Blacksmith Institute/Pure Earth and Fuller's work on toxic pollution problems around the world, including a dangerous cleanup of a secret former Soviet arms site in the Ukraine

The call was moderated by Elise Miller, MEd.