"The Invisible Pollution" - Video of Panel Discussion in India
For those of you who could not make it to our panel in India in March, here is video and a summary of the discussion. I spoke at the panel alongside Jairam Ramesh, the Indian Minister of State for Environments and Forests, and Tarun Das, President of Aspen Institute India. The panel addressed the issue of pollution and economic development, and laid out a vision for tackling the problem in India. It was presented by Aspen Institute India, the Confederation of Indian Industry, WWF India, and Blacksmith.
Also, thank you to everyone who made our NYC Earth Day event - "Get The Lead Out!" - such a success. The support we received will be crucial in continuing our toxic lead cleanup projects in Senegal, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Ukraine and elsewhere around the world.
-- Richard Fuller, President, Blacksmith Institute
In This Issue:
CHINA: Replicating a Wetlands Treatment System
Rivers polluted with heavy metals from industrial waste are a major problem in many countries, where the contaminated water is used by local communities for domestic purposes or for irrigating crops.
To solve this problem in southern China, a technical team from Blacksmith recently joined with local partners to assess the possibility of providing a low cost constructed wetlands treatment system downstream from a mine tailings dam. The approach would build on local expertise in replicating the functions of natural wetlands using wetland vegetation and soil to filter pollutants from wastewater. A pilot project is now being prepared.
[Photo: This dam discharges its water, contaminated with heavy metals from mine tailings, into the local water system. Credit: Blacksmith Institute]
The latest training session for the Global Inventory Project (GIP) was held in Accra, Ghana, in late March.
Fifteen local experts in environmental risk assessment from Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Benin and Guinea came together for three days to learn how to use Blacksmith's Initial Site Assessment protocol to assess hotspots in the region. They are part of several hundred GIP investigators working around the world to build the first comprehensive database of polluted sites.
"Each one of them has been working on pollution issues on the local level in some way and they are all very excited that the problem is finally getting some serious international attention," says Bret Ericson, the task manager for the GIP.
As part of the training session, the group visited the Tema industrial area in Accra, where residents live alongside a variety of industries. Accompanied by a local environmental officer, they visited several sites including a lead smelter, where they observed workers without any protective gear and exhaust from the smelter spreading without pollution controls. The group discussed methods to locate pollution problems, determine pollution pathways, assess risk to human health, and estimate the number of people affected.
"Many of these extremely polluted sites are known by residents so our investigators use their networks and local knowledge to find, identify and assess these sites for our inventory," says Bret.
This group of investigators is currently assessing and mapping hotspots in the region. When they finish this fall, they will have documented an estimated 100 to 200 highly polluted sites in West Africa alone.
GIP training sessions and investigations have already covered South and East Africa, Eastern Europe, Central and South Asia, South East Asia, and South and Central America. The GIP is scheduled to be completed by March 2011.
Last year, Blacksmith began working with the Mexican government to stop the use of toxic lead glazes in the country's large artisanal ceramics industry. Blacksmith experts recently returned to perform follow up testing and baseline data collection, and to clean up tainted ceramics workshops.
A total of 286 samples of soil and dust from 11 different workshops (where artisans had switched to lead-free glazes) were analyzed to determine the degree of residual environmental lead contamination. Of the sites tested, four were found with extremely high levels of lead and were remediated.
Local crews were hired and trained to do the work. This included sweeping and vacuuming lead dust and dirt from walls and floors, excavating and removing tainted soil, and power washing surfaces. In some areas too difficult to access, the toxic lead residue was sealed in beneath new layers of concrete and paint. Follow up tests performed after remediation showed that lead levels in the workshops had decreased from as much as 25,500 ppm to concentrations below the U.S. standard of 400 ppm.
"Some of the workshops share space with the family kitchen and dining areas so we made very sure that the areas were thoroughly cleaned because children are around. It is very important that we sever the lead to human transfer," notes Blacksmith technical advisor Donald Jones.
Blood samples were also taken from 75 people -- 29 from artisan families still using lead glazes, and 48 from families that had recently switched to lead-free alternatives. Those still using lead glazes were found to have average blood lead levels of 30.56 µg/dL, while those who had made the switched averaged 17.73 µg/dL. This was an improvement but still above the internationally recognized limit of 10 µg/dL. The success, however, showed that the program is working.
Further evidence of the program's effectiveness followed an educational outreach campaign (in which over 500 pamphlets were created and distributed) when some 36 artisan families approached Blacksmith for blood testing services and to remediate their workshops.
Jack Caravanos, another Blacksmith technical advisor who traveled to Mexico, took the opportunity to demonstrate lead sampling devices to Blacksmith's Mexican partner FONART, teaching their personnel how to carry on the monitoring work. Blacksmith also supplied testing material to the FONART team.
A new trip is planned in July to conduct follow-up monitoring and blood testing, which is scheduled to take place every three months. Blacksmith will also be reaching out to about 360 artisans and their families across three municipalities in Hidalgo, Mexico.
Daniel Estrada is the latest addition to Blacksmith's team in Mexico. An engineer by training, Daniel has been passionate about the environment since he was eight, when he began working on reforestation projects. In 2008, he was recognized as one of the Young Leaders for the Environment by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
These days, as Blacksmith's Mexico coordinator, Daniel can be found traveling across the country to visit some of Mexico's 50,000 ceramics producers for Blacksmith's project to stop the use of toxic lead glazes in the industry.
"Since joining Blacksmith, I have come to realize that the problem is much worse than I thought," says Daniel. "Less than 10% of Mexican pottery is lead free. This is an issue for consumers, the artisans and their families since men, women, elders and youngsters all might be part of the pottery process. I am proud to say I am working to change this reality."
But going against tradition is not always easy.
"Glazing as we know it today was introduced by the Spaniards so it has been used for hundreds of years and it is difficult to get people to change. They are not aware of the dangers. Another common argument I hear is that they need to use higher temperatures with the lead-free glaze," says Daniel, "But I tell them that the lead-free glazes can be bought at half the price."
One of Daniel's key tasks over the last few months has been to arrange blood lead testing for hundreds of artisans' children.
"The parents are usually surprised by the children's test readings and also by the level of lead we find in their workshops."
Once a family makes the switch, Daniel monitors them and arranges for remediation of their workshops if necessary.
Recent test results from two eight-year old siblings from one such family showed a decrease in blood lead levels from over 20 µg/dL to under 10 µg/dL, the internationally recognized limit, in just three months.
"The father is so relieved because the children are much more active now. He had felt uneasy about them before because they had been extremely quiet," remembers Daniel.
"Sometimes I find out that artisans who have stopped using lead glazes still cook with lead-glazed pots. So I have to tell them of that danger too. Once they find out they are thankful and their lives are changed forever. That is what I work for."
E-Waste Site, Agbogbloshie Market, Ghana
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