Measuring and reporting on the quantity of disease from environmental contamination has always been a challenge. Recent estimates of the global burden of disease from ambient and indoor air pollution by WHO have brought added attention to the impact of other anthropogenic contamination. However, chemically induced disease from contaminated water and soil present far more complicated exposure assessment problems. In addition, the non-specificity of environmental disease makes establishing a causal relationship problematic. The establishment of a global toxic waste site identification program is a first step in estimating human exposures from contaminated land. An overview of past and present episodes of chemically induced public health epidemics in low- and middle-income countries originating from gold mining, battery recycling, and e-waste processing will also be presented.
Jack Caravanos is Professor of Environmental Health at the City University of New York School of Public Health at Hunter College. In 2005 he partnered with the NGO Pure Earth (formally the Blacksmith Institute), where he works as Science Advisor for global environmental health and Director of Research. He has traveled to South America, Africa, India, and Indonesia helping to establish waste site identification programs. He has just returned from a two-week visit to the Peruvian Andes and Amazon assessing mercury exposure at artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations and training ministry officials in using environmental instrumentation. His research focuses on measuring environmental contamination and estimating disease burden in low- and middle-income countries.