CEEW, Blacksmith Institute-India and the Public Health Foundation of India form The Indian Alliance on Health and Pollution
Toxic pollutants and their impact on health are a major yet silent problem in India. Even as air pollution is making headlines both domestically and internationally, the burden of disease due to industrial pollutants remains a hidden yet potent menace. A 2013 study of the links between toxic pollution exposures and disease in India, Indonesia and the Philippines offered this sobering conclusion:
“The burden of disease from toxic pollution is comparable to estimated burdens for outdoor air pollution and malaria.”
To take just one toxin, lead, the study found that over 50,000 children in India are at risk of diminished intelligence because of being exposed to lead in water and soil at hazardous waste sites. The sites assessed in this study are a fraction of the existing and possible lead contaminated sites, indicating a ‘tip of the iceberg’ scenario. The proposed Indian Alliance on Health and Pollution aims to educate the public, and mobilize political will and hence resources to help India tackle the issue of toxic pollution, and create a safer healthier environment for all.
The Indian government has begun a systematic, nationwide program of identifying and cleaning up its worst polluted sites. While laudable, it is critical to have a systematic approach to enhance the accountability of involved stakeholders, share information at a wider level, and improve the responsible utilization of funds. At the same time, the general public needs to be made aware of how air, soil and water pollution compromises health, and how different toxins manifest themselves in the human body. An informed citizenry will be able to advocate for change at the local and national levels.
The Council on Energy, Environment & Water (CEEW), Blacksmith Institute-India, and the Public Health Foundation of India are partnering to bridge this missing gap and support the overall advancement of national policies and actions to combat toxic pollution. The objectives of this unique partnership are to:
- Monitor progress as the government cleans up polluted sites, and generate public awareness about the sites, state of contamination and remediation action;
- Develop expanded objectives with a focus on measurable impacts on public health;
- Generate awareness, share data, tools and best practices;
- Strengthen accountability and transparency of the government’s actions by increasing public awareness of existing policies and purported actions, broadcasting progress in cleaning up the worst polluted sites as identified by the MoEF, and mapping outcomes against public fund expenditures to achieve those outcomes.
- Increase public awareness of the issues around toxic pollution and health.
The results of a successful partnership will be stronger accountability of government spending and clearer priorities regarding cleanup of toxic sites in India, and potentially stronger action towards a cleaner, healthier environment for all Indians, especially children.
 Chatham-Stephens, K., Caravanos, J., Ericson, B., Sunga-Amparo, J., Susilorini, B., Sharma, P., … Fuller, R. (2013). Burden of disease from toxic waste sites in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines in 2010. Environmental Health Perspectives, 121(7), 791–6. doi:10.1289/ehp.1206127